The Breeders

The Breeders have long since become Kim Deal’s vehicle, her side hustle when she was in the Pixies, her main band when she wasn’t.  But the Breeders didn’t start off that way.  Back in 1989, Deal and Tanya Donnelly, more famously of the Throwing  Muses, formed the band.  The Breeders arose out of Deal being bored with being Black Francis’ side-kick in the Pixies.  Whilst she did get a song or two on each album, or its b-sides, she was ready for something  more. In 1989, the Pixies toured with Throwing Muses, which was really Donnelly’s step-sister, Kristin Hersch’s, vehicle.  The formation of the Breeders always reminds me of this episode of The Simpsons, where Lisa discovers that she is Bart’s sister, and always in his shadow, and then a new girl at school really messes things up for her because she’s no longer the smartest kid in class.  She has a dream where she and two other number twos, Art Garfunkel and John Oates, form a band that gets booed off stage.

Except, the Breeders didn’t end up like that.  The Breeders have gone on to be loved by millions.  Their second album, 1994’s Last Splash is the more famous album.  But Pod is its own form of genius.  This was largely Deal’s vehicle and poor Tanya Donnelly was largely playing second fiddle, which is what led her to split from the Breeders and form Belly in 1992.

This album, though, is much rawer and fierce than Last Splash.  Part of that is due to the fact that Donnelly is the lead guitarist here, and her singular, post-punk sounding, angular guitars dominate the album, which create a very strong linkage with Belly.  In this sense, the greatness of Pod is the musical partnership of Deal and Donnelly, even if Deal wrote most of the songs, with the exception of the Beatles’ classic ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun.’

Deal’s most famous Pixies track is ‘Gigantic,’ from Surfer Rosa, the Pixies’ début long-player.  In the notes for that album, she is credited (presumably with her consent) as Mrs. John Murphy. ‘Gigantic’ is an ode to his member.  Her most famous song, ‘Cannonball,’ is an ode to cunnilingus. ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ is a song about masturbation, here wonderfully subverted by Deal and Donnelly, who trade vocals.  My point is that sex guides a lot of her music.  And sometimes not so wonderfully, as, for example, the first track, ‘Glorious,’ which recounts an adult remembering being molested by an aunt as a child.  Or ‘Hellbound,’ which is about an aborted fetus that survives.

Speaking of ‘Hellbound,’ it is the most Pixies-sounding song Deal ever recorded with the Breeders.  Here, hers and Donnelly’s guitars mimic the guitars of Joey Santiago and Black Francis.  It also rocks hard.   I have never really decided what I feel about this track because it is more or less a Pixies song, just written by Kim Deal.

I first came across Pod on a 4AD sampler album I got when I bought, of all things, the Pixies 1991 album, Bossanova.  Living in suburban Vancouver meant that it was impossible to get my hands on anything other than Rolling Stone for music, and by then, Rolling Stone had begun its long, slow descent into irrelevance.  Spin existed, or so I am told, but it was not in my universe. I knew Melody Maker and The NME existed, but, yeah, good luck.  So, I didn’t know about the Breeders until the year after Pod came out.  The track on that compilation was ‘Hellbound.’  I initially then dismissed the Breeders as The Pixies Lite.  But then, Samantha, one of my friends at high school, let me listen to Pod on her Walkman in the hallway in our spare period between classes.  I was hooked.

I fell in love with Kim Deal’s voice, which, amazingly, really hasn’t changed all that much, even now, almost thirty years on, despite all the cigarettes and booze.  There was something both kick ass strong in it and girlish.  She really was, now that I think about it, the first alternative rocker who could pull this off.  Many women have attempted to copy her since, but she remains the original and best at this. Her voice took me out of the existential  misery of teenagedom to another world.

Oddly, whilst I don’t think anyone would ever accuse Deal of writing happy music, her voice was the vehicle here, it reminded me of green grass and blue skies, a rarity in the Pacific Northwest.  It was only as I began to sink into the album, into her music, into the guitars in particular, that I discovered what a wonderfully subversive song-writer she was.

I’ve never bought into the Cult of Kim Deal, I have to say.  I think she rocks and she’s kick ass.  But she was not the Pixies.  She was just a member, though a constituent part of the whole.  The Pixies, to me, have always been Black Francis’ twisted realities and Joey Santiago’s guitars.  Listening to the Breeders, one can immediately see why Deal and Francis used to be friends.  They’re both warped and twisted, they favour more obtuse lyrics and their guitars are tuned in way that gives them a unique sound.  You can also see why they where never meant to be friends for more than a few minutes, as Deal is a brilliant song-writer in her own right.

In the aftermath of Last Splash, the Breeders became the more interesting of the two bands, in large part because not only had the Pixies gone kaputski at the end of 1992 (BY FAX!), their last album, Trompe Le Monde, was kind of meh (or so I thought in 1991, I now think it’s glorious).  And, of course, the Pixies’ come back albums have been, I think, unfairly, maligned.  It’s not like the Breeders put out a new album every couple of years.  In fact, after Last Splash, it was 2002 before the Breeders resurfaced with Title TK which was, to a large degree, flat.  So was 2008’s Mountain Battles.  Only last year did the Breeders return to glory with All Nerve, which was a triumphant return to form.  Not coincidentally, it was the first since Last Splash to be made by the ‘classic’ Breeders’ lineup of Kim Deal on vocals and guitar, her twin sister, Kelly, on guitar and vocals,  Josephine Wiggs on bass, and Jim McPherson on drums.

As for Donnelly, Belly became her primary concern by 1991-2, and in 1993, they released their brilliant début, Star, which could be, and even may be, the subject of a future classic review.