The Breeders make a courageous return on ‘All Nerve’

the breeders all nerve

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.

10/10

Veruca Salt crush it on debut American Thighs

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When you lead an album with a single as attention-grabbing as 90s alt-rock gem “Seether”, it’s only fair to have something to match it down the line. In reality, Veruca Salt’s debut American Thighs holds only three additional rock-outs.

Thanks to singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post, the frenetic “Seether” is packed with garage-rock grit and lyrical titillation (it was supposedly about a woman’s monthly gift). If the band’s later efforts demonstrated an attraction to heavy metal, then “All Hail Me” stands as a warning. Sonically, it’s the weightiest track on the record, full of chilling wails and galloping guitars.

Number One Blind” sounds like a crossover hit, but for a different band. Nonetheless, the slightly cheesy melody blends surprisingly well with the rest of the record. “Victrola” boasts the same raucous charm as “Seether”, but at barely two minutes in length, it’s a bit throwaway.

So that leaves us with what Rolling Stone described as “flat balladry”. The triptych of “Spiderman ‘79“, “Forsythia” and “Wolf” is an awkward one. All three drag, but only the second fails to reach a bombastic conclusion. “Forsythia” has a cute sashaying riff, but it nosedives into a faceless instrumental when its chorus deserves a poppier structure.

Celebrate You” brings stubborn teenage melodrama and contains the album’s campest lyric: “I tip my glass and toast to you; / the blood spills on the carpet / at your celebration.” Fuzzy power ballad “Twinstar” is lyrically simple (“You wanna lift me up / but you don’t know / I’m stuck in my ways”), but when singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Post belt that chorus out, it’s a lighter-in-the-air moment.

Ideally, the album should have ended here, but of course there’s an ‘epic’ to slog through. The amateurish “25” is disappointing, although the whispered kiss-off “Sleeping Where I Want To” goes some way towards making amends.

There was something admirable about Veruca Salt’s lack of ambition. What their debut lacks in meaning and experimentation it makes up for with killer hooks melded with a pleasingly hazy atmosphere. While their personal troubles ensured they would never again make quite such an innocent record, American Thighs remains an oddly bewitching relic from a simpler time.

8/10