The Breeders – LSXX Last Splash, 20th Anniversary Edition (4AD)
3CD/DL/7 disc Vinyl
Has it really been twenty years? Twenty years since it seemed the whole world was enthralled with all things ‘grunge’ (spit). When it was ‘ok’ to wear lumberjack shirts, constantly down at our feet whilst looking at the stars? When it was ok for men to be ‘deep’ and introverted?
Well yes it has been, and much has changed since then. Britpop came along and for a large part of British youth, the introspectiveness was replaced with a desire to celebrate and have some fun. Looking back at this period in music and culture ( late-80’s – mid 90’s) it is remarkable to see how many different genres of fashion, cinema, and of course music were exploding here in theUKand across the pond.
We had acid-house, indie, stoner/doom rock, hip-hop plus a whole load of sub and sub-sub genres. It seemed every week something new would come along that would kickstart another mini ‘movement’.
When reminiscing about the records released during this period, the BIG albums are always talked about, Nevermind, Definitely Maybe etc but right up there near the top is Last Splash by The Breeders.
Formed by Kim Deal (of the hugely influential band The Pixies) and her sister Kelley Deal, the band played their first gig together with Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson on the 19th June 1992 at Warrington Rugby Club (yet again, another fantastic event that the North of England can claim), it was only two days later that they were supporting Nirvana in Dublin and Belfast, then going onto Glastonbury (not a bad run of gigs for your first time playing together with a new line-up eh). The Breeders then proceeded to embark on a 27-date tour around America before convening in San Francisco to begin recording what was to become their second album, Last Splash.
What was released was a record so willfully experimental, bold, biting, and just plain great, it would easily stand up against all the other ‘big’ albums of the time.
Now we all know what was happening with Kim in the Pixies, it is easy to see where she was getting her inspiration from. Like other musicians who’ve left a massively influential band after feeling restricted (see George Harrison, Graham Coxon, and David Byrne etc), the album seems to contain a sense of release. No idea seems out of bound, and all the tracks already seemed fully formed. From the opener New Year (full of sludge riffing, sudden time changes, and screeching feedback), to the fuzz waltz of Mad Lucas, via the driving rock of I Just Wanna Get Along (which contains some of the most vicious lyrics of all time “if you’re so special, why aren’t you dead?” anyone?), the record is a pure melting pot of ideas and invention and a distinct move forward from their debut album Pod (1990).
Listening again, it seems to put paid the theory that the Pixies were purely Frank Blacks band. There is a lot of shared DNA with Deal’s previous outfit. Many tracks stay under the three minute mark, have a very lo-fi feel, and extremely catchy hooks. Ah yes, catchy hooks, that means we are nearing the bit where I talk about Cannonball.
Cannonball is a song so ubiquitous now (no self-respecting indie-disco is complete without it); it is easy to forget the pure simplistic genius that it contains. Like other songs that get played to death (Common People, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Creep etc), people can get jaded with it and forget what made them love it in the first place. It’s only when you go back to it with fresh years after a while of not listening does the magic hit you again. The “check-check-check” feedback intro, the lolloping main ref, the energy burst that is the chorus, and the fact that the song seems so druggy yet mainstream at once lift this track above lots of the mediocre drudgery that was deemed ‘grunge’ at the time. Catchy yet subversive, this was pop music as it was meant to be. Aided by a very memorable video directed by Kim Gordon and Spike Jonez (an Alt-America fan’s perfect dream), the single shot into the charts and was NME’s single of the year in 1993.
The album sounds fresher than ever twenty years on, and the bonus discs that accompany it make it an even more vital purchase even if you still have the original album.
Disc Two contains demos, rare tracks and the bands EPs, so it is now possible to own the tracks like the Grunggae and New Year demos only previously available as a bonus seven-inch with the original pressing of Last Splash.
The demos also reinforce the idea that the band were so fully formed and in tune with each other that not much work by a producer was needed.
Disc Three is entitled The Stockholm Syndrome and was recorded live in Stockholm for the BBC.
When second track New Year bursts into life it is easy to see why the band were such a live draw. The band sound ramped up and full of energy. The sound is as, to be expected, much rawer than their studio recordings. When they try to quiet the crowd down for the intro to their version of Happiness Is A Warm Gun, you can tell they are never going to win as the crowd are so into the event. When this segues into Cannonball the inevitable chaos can be heard ensuing.
A great recording of a great band in their prime.
This collection serves as a great reminder of not only what a great band the Breeders were or how good Last Splash was, it also serves as a timely reminder of when the charts were full of all walks of life, and when musicians with integrity, bravery, and sheer confidence could get ahead and success wasn’t gained by being on, or winning, a reality TV show.
Young or old, I implore you to get this release and discover/rediscover a truly fantastic album and if this is your first time listening, I hope this encourages you to go listen to music from a truly glorious time to be a teenager.
All words by Simon Tucker. You can read more from Simon on Louder Than War at his author’s archive.