Friday, 4 April 2014

Pixies pt. 3 - the in-between years

Solo projects are often a hit-or-miss affair. When you have a band as great and unique as Pixies, the chances are the individual members would fair a little better than most others. Alas, it was not to be.

When Black Francis broke up the Pixies (by fax!), he changed his name to Frank Black and launched his solo career. His eponymous first album wasn't actually that bad, though I remember at the time feeling disappointed it didn't sound more like Pixies. That's always a trap people fall into when members of their fave bands go solo. With hindsight though, that first Frank Black album had some really decent tunes on it. I love Los Angeles, I Heard Ramona Sing and Don't Ya Rile 'em, though admittedly there are quite a few fillers amongst its 15 songs which lets it down somewhat.

His follow-up 'Teenager of the Year' is very highly rated by many fans, but it always left me cold. Again, looking back it isn't as bad as I first thought - (I Want To Live On An) Abstract Plain is right up there with some of Frank's best tracks - but I can see why I didn't like it and why I subsequently lost interest in what he was doing.

Meanwhile, Kim Deal seemed to land on her feet. She had reformed her high school band the Breeders during the hiatus between 'Doolittle' and 'Bossanova' with Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses, Josephine Wiggs of the Perfect Disaster and Britt Walford of Slint (credited as Shannon Doughton). They recorded 'Pod' with Steve Albini who cites the record as among his best work. Following the Pixies split, Deal revived the Breeders and recorded the 'Safari' EP, before a new line-up (featuring her twin sister Kelley) made what would become one of alternative rock's era-defining records.

'Last Splash' displayed once and for all how integral Kim Deal was to the Pixies, and suggests that if Black Francis' ego hadn't turned him into such a control freak, Kim's songs could have helped propel Pixies into the stratosphere. The centrepoint of the record was Cannonball, now viewed as a bonafide classic (you can read about my love of this song tomorrow...) It would take nine years for another Breeders album to emerge, during which time Kim released 'Pacer' under the name The Amps.

Frank Black however was far more prolific. In 1998 he formed the Catholics, featuring former Pixies cohort Joey Santiago. They turfed out an album a year for five years, the highlight being 'Dog In The Sand' which I believe to be the best non-Pixies thing he ever did. Overall though, the quality was patchy; Kim was well ahead in the post-Pixies projects stakes.

As for David Lovering, he was trying to make ends meet as a magician and occasionally played drums for others. It wasn't turning out too well and he was at rock bottom when he received the call that Pixies were reforming. Between 2004 and 2010, Pixies toured relentlessly. Frank Black continued to churn out loads of solo stuff however, even restoring his Black Francis moniker - 2007's 'Bluefinger' album sounding everso slightly like a Pixies record in places. He also formed a new band, Grand Duchy, with his wife and released two albums. Kim made another Breeders record which, to me at least, sounded flat and lacked the songs its predecessors had. Joey and Dave sporadically put out tracks as Everybody, though there was little among them which drew me in.

Then Kim quit Pixies and the band, coincidentally or otherwise, released new material while Kim herself has released a clutch of lo-fi solo singles over the past 12 months.

If anything you could view these various solo projects as proof that collectively Pixies were one helluva special band; they had a chemistry between them as a unit that just enabled them to make such extraordinary music, something that they couldn't do individually. But that would be unfair. Kim in particular has shown what she was capable of while Black Francis did give us occasional glimpses of brilliance. Even so, bar Kim's Cannonball, there's nothing that reaches the dizzy heights of 'Doolittle'.



  1. hate to admit it, but the breeders music outshines any other pixies spin off, much better than "new " pixies music too...?

    1. Well, if you're talking about 'Cannonball' alone, I'd be inclined to agree with you...