Madcap, unrestrained dynamism was PIXIES’ whole deal in their late-80s-early-90s heyday. Their avant-garde singularity and biblical vagary solidified ‘Surfer Rosa’, ‘Doolittle’, and ‘Bossanova’ – their first three original-era records – firmly within alt-rock’s hallowed canon. But the PIXIES are older now, and the band admits, in flowery, slightly hesitant language, that they’re moving on from their cataclysmic, grungy roots. So, it was just a phase.
‘Doggerel’ is the PIXIES’ third record since their studio return with 2014’s ‘Indie Cindy’. It grips tightly to the fraying threads that tie it to the PIXIES first-era discography, namely its occult undercurrents and knife-sharp lyricism. Still, ‘Doggerel’ can’t seem to hold onto the sublime peculiarity that made the PIXIES so revolutionary. There are a few bona fide moments of characteristic strangeness on the album, but much of the record wobbles towards ambiguity and falls flat into the polished, suburban musicality they once rejected.
There are moments of metaphysical magic strewn throughout the record. The opening track, ‘Nomatterday’ is sharp and cogent, swelling up to a stirring chorus after frontman Black Francis’ spoken-lyricism. ‘Vault Of Heaven’ is foreboding, with a sepia-toned, outlaw intensity and Western-ish, dazed guitar. Trouncing drums and cerebral nonchalance on ‘You’re Such A Sadducee’ invoke the feeling of classic PIXIES tracks like ‘Bone Machine’ and ‘Down to the Well’.
Songs like ‘Pagan Man’, ‘Haunted House’, and ‘Thunder & Lightning’, though, feel like conventional, innocuous rock music for people who abandoned their grunge edge in favour of bourgeoise normalcy when the year 2000 struck.
PIXIES are facing the paralyzing dilemma of any band whose magnum opus was written in the 20th century – do you take the money and run or keep cutting records and risk diluting your once-illustrious reputation? Considering their first run as a band only lasted seven years, it’s not shocking that they’re still grasping for their glory days. But the PIXIES’ greatness didn’t come from their suave, urbane identity or their mass, long-term appeal, it came from their ephemeral je ne sais quoi – the notion that if you’re into PIXIES, you’re in on something that not everyone truly gets.
‘Doggerel’ isn’t a bad record, it’s just missing the audacious grit that is so entwined with the bizarre charm that makes the PIXIES so remarkable.
Words: Bella Savignano