For 25 years, it looked like The Breeders’ seminal Last Splash album was doomed to live up to its name. Addiction and sibling wars ripped the band’s most successful lineup apart in the mid-90s. And true enough, neither Kim Deal nor her cohorts would ever make such a splash in the mainstream again.
Perhaps to compensate for the loss of momentum, their profoundly confident return All Nerve is obsessed with collisions.
The title track – a torch song so fiery you could light a cigarette off it – depicts love as a hurtling vehicle. Loved ones are run down in the chase. Ships crash through ports. A mother forcibly restrains her daughter. Last Splash, it seems, was just the beginning.
These violent images are reflective of a band reliving their chemistry, albeit to a reckless degree, rather than any past strife.
Kim and her long-serving twin sister / guitarist Kelley’s most recent effort – 2008’s Mountain Battles – was a hushed, often eerie masterpiece. By contrast, their reunion with bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim McPherson often draws on the fuzzy guitars and sexy wit of 90s hits like ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Divine Hammer’.
‘Nervous Mary’ and ‘Wait in the Car’ have anxious protagonists, but their hysteria is expressed through hysterical observations. An unconvincingly chipper ‘Good morning!’ opens the latter, before we get a peek into a mind in meltdown (FYI, there’s meowing). McPherson’s drums drop in and out, exposing the track’s delectably rugged riff.
Kim sings with unusual clarity these days, an asset producer / alt-rock deity Steve Albini exploits in the mix. Her prominence has a humanising effect on 70s krautrock classic ‘Archangel’s Thunderbird’, with the off/on Pixie’s good-natured snarl italicising the biblical farce embedded in Amon Düül II’s ominous original.
However, the most revelatory vocal has to be Josephine Wiggs’ lead on ‘MetaGoth’. In the thick of ghoulish guitars and a propulsive bassline, her English accent is downright exotic, pulling a foreboding promise that ‘No one’s here to stay’ to even chillier depths.
Yet even at its most sombre, All Nerve lives up to the fearlessness implied by its title. ‘Spacewoman’ speaks to an astronaut who has cut herself adrift, and spins listlessly above Earth. A symbol for our narrator’s loneliness, she’s eventually to coaxed down to revel in the sight of a beach ball bouncing around a stadium.
It’s a simple scene that’s almost surreal in its sense of community spirit: ‘Everyone’s having fun / hitting home runs / With the sun in their eyes’.
Swept up in the moment, Kim tries for hopeful notes at the very top of her range, and blessed with a synergistic band, it would be a shame if she didn’t embrace new creative extremes.