The Breeders – All Nerve (4AD)
The most beautiful thing about the Breeders was that they didn’t seem to care how great they were. In the early 1990s, when dude-driven heavy metal was being rebranded as grunge, these three women and token male drummer often sounded like they were falling apart, even on monstrous radio singles like “Cannonball.” Kim and Kelley Deal’s laconic vocals matched the way their guitars seemed to be falling out of tune and/or time as they lurched to land on the same downbeats as the whip-tight rhythm section of Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson. There were two Breeders albums released in the 2000s without the latter two members; neither got as much traction as, say, when Deal rejoined the Pixies for various victory-lap tours.
All Nerve reunites the Breeders lineup heard on their million-selling 1993 album Last Splash. But it has none of that album’s effortless charm and certainly none of its songwriting strength; instead, All Nerve seems like a deliberate regression that makes the 1990 debut Pod seem polished in comparison. There are slight moments of inspiration, and Wiggs—normally not heard in front of a microphone—offers one of the more inspired songs here, “MetaGoth.” “Archangel’s Thunderbird” is the rare track that taps into the classic Breeders’ formula, with a solid guitar riff and drumming—though the scattershot melody almost immediately derails the entire song.
Which begs the question: what do we expect of veterans from the so-called “indie rock” boom of the 1990s, when wilful amateurism was de rigeur? If these artists get slicker and more professional, they lose the beauty of what it was we loved about them in the first place. By the same token, by sounding like they’re stuck in a time machine—and sonically, All Nerve doesn’t sound a step out of time beyond 1995—this band just sounds tired, like that slacker-cool barista who’s still working at the same campus coffee shop 20 years after all her friends graduated and left town. (March 9)
Stream: “Nervous Mary,” “MetaGoth,” “Archangel’s Thunderbird”