Saturday, July 20, 2013

Album Review: The Breeders - LSXX (2013) / Last Splash (1993)

An early contender for reissue of the year surely has to be LSXX, a repackaged/deluxe version of The Breeders’ seminal 1993 album Last Splash ...  a 20th anniversary edition.

This is a three disc, 60-track set: the original album on disc one, a collection of EP tracks and demos on disc two, and a live (in Stockholm) set plus an early BBC session on disc three. It works brilliantly as a fairly comprehensive overview of the band’s music from that early Nineties peak period.
While I’ve enjoyed almost everything The Breeders have done over the years, it’s fair to say the band hasn’t been the most prolific in terms of album releases (just four albums), or indeed, as a live concern. Part of that is due to Kim Deal’s on-again off-again relationship with The Pixies of course.

I’ve included a review (below) I wrote a few years back for Last Splash in its original form and that release remains very much a long-time favourite of mine and something close to a desert island disc.

But before that, I’ll just briefly fill you in on some highlights found on the additional material we get on the deluxe edition:

Some of the stuff on the disc of EP tracks and demos is quite fascinating (in the anorak sense), and a lot of it serves to demonstrate the way raw material can be transformed from a rough sketch into finished product. Not just any old finished product either, but work good enough to make it on to an album that eventually wound up becoming one of the most critically acclaimed albums of its decade. For example, there’s a track called ‘Grunggae’, which is a raw very early take on the band’s breakthrough single ‘Cannonball’. There’s ‘Cro-Aloha’, which eventually became ‘No Aloha’ on the album, and the single version of ‘Divine Hammer’, which is quite different from the one found on the album. There’s also a live (at Glastonbury) take on early fan favourite ‘Iris’. Plus plenty more.
Cool As: Kim Deal
The Stockholm gig that makes up the majority of the third disc is probably not quite so compelling, but it’s a worthwhile enough exercise in that it captures the band in its prime, albeit in very much a rough and ready state. It represents the DIY rock n roll ethic at its most ragged, and The Breeders were nothing if not nonchalant champions of that particular form. I’d not heard the band’s live take on ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ (The Beatles) before so it was worth it for that alone. The BBC session at the end of the disc – four live-in-the-studio tracks including yet another version of ‘Divine Hammer’ – feels like an add-on, an afterthought perhaps.

Regardless, this is great value for money (providing you buy into the idea that deluxe editions are not solely released to sell you what you already own) and I’ve enjoyed revisiting Last Splash again, 20 years after the fact.

Here’s my review of the original (single) album written a while back and published elsewhere ...


Hailing from Dayton, Ohio, identical twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal formed The Breeders long before bassist Kim eventually struck it “big” with The Pixies in the mid Eighties. But it took the partial demise of Frank Black’s alt-cult faves for The Breeders to emerge from being a Kim Deal side project into a fully-fledged going concern in their own right. That finally happened with The Breeders’ debut release Pod in 1990, and although Kelley didn’t feature on that album, the band’s earliest line-up and first album did feature the not inconsiderable powers of Throwing Muses and future Belly vocalist Tanya Donelly.
By 1993, one solitary EP (1992’s ‘Safari’) later, Donelly was gone, Kelley was back, and the finishing touches were being applied to the band’s second full-length release, Last Splash. Heavy on garage-inspired slightly off-kilter riffs, laced with DIY sensibility, and blatant in its (song structure) experimentation, Last Splash, along with a Nirvana support slot, would propel The Breeders to a whole new commercial level.

Clocking in at under 40 minutes, the album is modest in length, but the band still manage to bombard us with some 15 tracks, the majority of them being unpolished indie pop gems, with just a few cuts falling short on account of really only being half-formed unfinished ideas. Albeit the sort of charming half-formed ideas the like of which many contemporaries could only dream about.

Kim tends to dominate proceedings throughout, and she takes responsibility for the majority of the vocals - though Kelley’s contribution on ‘I Just Wanna Get Along’ is nonetheless terrific. The band keep things simple and tight, with Kim’s production adding a light coating of gloss not evident on their erstwhile Steve Albini-produced output.
Sisters doing it for themselves
Showcased by two minor hit singles in ‘Cannonball’ (one of the very best indie releases of 1993) and ‘Divine Hammer’, the album’s chart breakthrough is generally mirrored in artistic terms, and Last Splash is widely regarded as something of a creative peak for the band … given that it would be another nine years before their third effort (2002’s Title TK), and a further six years before the fourth album (2008’s Mountain Battles), the band’s profile was certainly at its highest through the mid Nineties period - immediately after the release of Last Splash.

Aside from the aforementioned singles, other highlights include: ‘Invisible Man’, ‘No Aloha’, ‘Do You Love Me Now’, ‘I Just Wanna Get Along’, ‘Saints’, the country-inspired ‘Drivin On 9’, and the surf-rock flavoured instrumental ‘Flipside’.

Thoroughly recommended, and one of the best albums of a very good year.

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