- Rich Kroneiss
It's a hazily warm evening this past August. My pal Brian and myself are at some local hip bar-joint checking out chick's asses on the patio, high on Percs and drinking buckets of Corona splits. Semi-major travesties of justice are pumping out of the soundsystem, your Killers, your White Stripes, maybe some Jet or something. Nothing too offensive, nothing too good either, interspersed with the occasional Alternative-hit of yesteryear, when I detect the upbeat summertime-good intro to The Breeders' "Divine Hammer" start to eek its way out. "Man, I love The Breeders..." I lovingly state inbetween a sip of suds and an inhale. "No you don't, do you?", I get as a reply. "The Breeders are fucking great, man, what do you mean?" or some similar response filled with defiance spills from from my jaws. "Liking The Breeders. That's pretty girlie." Is it? Maybe Brian had a point there. Maybe not. But it definitely reminded me that my infatuation with The Breeders would make good fodder for this column. The bands or records that elicit the "That's pretty gay/weird/shitty" response, that's what Closet Cases is for. Accused of musical girlie-ism, I feel the need to explain.
To begin, let me just say that I am no ex-indie rock maven, who loved The Pixies and then fell head-over-heels for The Breeders as an act of natural progression. I could give two shits about The Pixies and most of their post-R.E.M. college rock contemporaries. I admit I once tried and bought a few Pixies records, which have since been sold with extreme prejudice. Never got it. Except for one song. "Wave of Mutilation", which got a lot of airplay in my world back-in-the-day due to a then-girlfriend having a yen for listening to the soundtrack to 'Pump Up the Volume' for some reason. I think it made her feel closer to Christain Slater or something. But the point being, it was the vocals on that song over the lazy surf beat that made more of an impact on my later life than the girlfriend herself. It was the beginning of my love affair with Kim Deal.
I forget how I came into possesion of The Breeders debut LP "Pod" exactly, but I am assuming the fact that Albini had recorded it forced my hand a bit, as I was an unwavering Stevie A. fan back then. So much so that the fact that he even touched a record might make me purchase it along with my steady diet of Jesus Lizard and Melvins and AmRep singles. Rumor has it that Steve was actually boinking one the gals whilst this was recorded somehwere in the UK. But before I get too far ahead, a bit of background. For the unaware, The Breeders were actually a teenage band of Kim Deal and twin sister Kelley during their formative years in Dayton, Ohio. This earliest incarnation was obviously not very fruitful, as Kimmy soon became a Pixie and the band name returned to the shelf. I don't think The Pixies were officially broken up when The Breeders first started, but it didn't take long. Along with Tanya Donnelly from 4AD labelmates Throwing Muses on guitar, Josephine Wiggs from UK outfit Perfect Disaster on bass (who Albini said "looked like an emu with thinner hair" in an issue of Forced Exposure) and Slint drummer Britt Walford (aka Shannon Doughton, an alias assumed to hide his involvement from his friends in Slint). The record is not their best. I hesitate to even call it good, but it has its moments. Wedged in between some frightening demi-riot grrrl tuneage like "Iris" (the obligatory girl-band song about menstruation) and "Hellbound" (a song about an abortion that lives, which became a live set staple and is actually a decent number) are some surprising things: the Wire-y "Metal Man" from Wiggs, the sloth-like low-key burble-strum of "Glorious", a well-done Beatles cover ("Happiness is a Warm Gun"), and a few others. It's a rather dry album at times, and suffers from what I always think of as two then-second bananas (Kim to Black Francis and Donnelly to Kristin Hersh) struggling to come into their own. Yet it remains charming in a sort of ragged, unfinished-sounding way, containing some dark corners the band never again visited. Not the place to start, but something to work backwards to if you're unfamiliar, and it makes excellent driving music I've found. Thankfully, 4AD always had the good sense to press vinyl, and you can still find this LP in the $20 range if you're lazy, and probably for $5 or less if you do some work. The main obstacle being the vinyl seems to have stayed in the UK for the most part, as Atlantic only did a CD release in the States.
It's at this point that The Breeders get really interesting/good. After being quiet for a good year plus, the Pixies finally disbanded, freeing Kim up and the band started touring. Donnelly apparently had further visions of grandeur and started up the terrible alt-rock bandwagon band Belly (who had one of the worst songs/videos in MTV history with "Feed the Tree") and announced her intent to leave The Breeders behind. Kim had also called in her near-talentless twin sister, who was apparently bored or something, and shoehorned her into the band somehow. Kelley could barely play the drums, had no training on any other instruments, so she logically became the Breeders rhythm guitar player. Kelley's involvement in the band is something I have mixed feelings about; I really don't like her, and her inclusion is nepotism in one of it's finest examples, but at least she seemed to have some factor in pushing Donnelly out. In my uneducated opinion, I think Donnelly's departure really gave Kim the chance to blossom, and even though Tanya had only one songwriting credit on 'Pod', I tend to believe her presence and the fact she was the initial partner in the band stifled Kim a bit. Regardless, this five-piece line-up, the only to include Kelley and Donnelly, recorded the Breeders finest moment, the 'Safari' EP. The title song is The Breeders best tune, hands down. Huge wall of guitar sound, a stoic and rocksteady drum-and-bass line, some sass and a curse word, an extended "breakdown" section, and plenty of Kim's breathy honey-and-cigarettes voice. Absolutely perfect. The rest of the EP doesn't slouch either. A wonderful and harmonious cover of the Who's "So Sad About Us", the slow, steady and beautiful "Do You Love Me Now?" (with cello by Wiggs), the plaintive and minimal "Don't Call Home", these accompanying tracks balance out the heaviness of "Safari". I listen to this record monthly, and have for the past dozen or so years I've owned it. Call me gay, I don't give a shit. Again, 4AD pressed this as a 12" maxi-EP that you should be able to find for $10 max, and way less if you have any patience at all, and it will be worth every penny. It should also be noted that Walford played on this record under the alias "Mike Hunt" and left soon after. Perhaps Slint were on to the fact he was moonlighting...
1993. Alternative rock is burning up the charts. The Breeders end up being part of the fire. The line-up is now Kim, Kelley, Wiggs, and newly recruited drummer Jim Macpherson (also from Dayton, and a future Guided by Voices member). They record the 'Last Splash' LP in San Francisco and it takes off, due in large part to an opening slot on a Nirvana tour. Soon they're all over MTV, "Cannonball" gets serious radio airplay, Prodigy are sampling them, Spike Jonze is directing their videos, they're playing the main stage at Lollapalooza. Hot shit. But it wasn't a coincidence, as 'Last Splash' is a fantastic album. Absolutely one of my all-time top five summer time albums ever. As soon as the air starts getting warm come May or so, 'Last Splash' get dusted off and placed into heavy rotation. It's pop heavy, catchy, and has a sweetness to it that doesn't get sickening, like a piece of gum that never loses it's flavor. It stays delicious. Plus, it hides some viciousness and in-jokes (a recurring them in Breeders songs) contained in the lyrics. Nothing but hits here folks. The soaring summertime ode of "Saints", the hamfisted yet sexy entendre of "Divine Hammer" ("I'd bang it all day..."), the angry bounciness of "I Just Wanna Get Along" ("If you're so special, then why aren't you dead?", sung by Kelley, but which I often imagine Kim wrote about Frank Black), the exciting surf-style instros of "S.O.S." and "Flipside", wall-of-noise experimentation ("Roi" times two), and even a country tune beautifully sung by Kim ("Drivin' on 9", a Dylan-y cover tune of some obscure band). Even if you absolutely abhor "Cannonball" (and I can't see why you would, other than from overexposure), 'Last Splash' is like a blast of cool ocean mist in the face, an upbeat and refreshing record that glides out of the speakers. Sweet like cotton candy and poppy in all the right places with a crunchy hard rock aftertaste. Kim Deal's voice is sublime on this one. The rhythm section = locked in. Even Kelley manages to contribute. Seriously, wait for a hot summer afternoon in July, throw this in the deck and take a cruise down the highway with the windows down, you won't regret it. Again, released on vinyl by 4AD in the UK, CD only by Atlantic in the States (dicks). This one seems to be a bit tougher to find than either 'Safari' or 'Pod' on vinyl (at least in the States, anyway), but you'll find a $5 or less copy eventually. As I said earlier, this stuff goes for upwards of $20 on eBay regularly (and usually from UK sellers), but scour enough bins and you'll do fine in the long run. Catch one of the early copies, and it will come with a bonus 7" with two tunes that later turned up on the single for "Saints" (demo versions of "Cannonball" and "New Year"). Good luck on that one.
'Last Splash' also spawned a fruitful bunch of singles/EPs to capitalize on its success. The first (and most common) is the EP release of "Cannonball", which sheds some light on Josephine Wiggs. Along with the title cut, you get a heavy and shimmering cover of Aerosmith's "Lord of the Thighs" (one of my favorite Breeders cuts as well) with Wigss on Brit-inflected vox, plus her own "900", an emotional piece of slow shoegazer rock, with cello and violin (by Carrie Bradley, who was at this point nearly a fifth member of the band) playing nicely with electric guitars. The fourth cut is a demo version of "No Aloha" from the LP, here rocked up a bit and called "Cro Aloha", and a perfect song for daydreaming to Kim's vox. You can find this one as a 12" as well (fairly rare, and even rarer with the shiny green inner sleeve), on CD if you're a cheater, and there is also a promo only one-sided 12" housed in a metallic sleeve if you want to get really completist about it. And of course I do. Next was the "Divine Hammer" single, released in two vinyl versions. The initial 10" version (which one site listed as a 5,000 press, which I tend to believe, but which also raises questions as to why this turns up more often than the "Cannonball" 12" EP...wouldn't you think there would have been more copies of that?) contains four tracks: the title cut in LP form, a great Hank Williams cover ("I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)"), a non-LP outake ("Hoverin'", which was later recorded with Kim's band The Amps), and "Do You Love Me Now jr.", which is the song from the album, but with vocals added from none other than J.Mascis. There's also a 7" version on clear vinyl (2,000 pressed?) with just "Divine Hammer" and the Mascis remix. So get the 10" if you're looking for this one. There was also a CD-single for "Saints" (with the two aforementioned demo cuts added on), but we won't worry about that. Vinyl doesn't exist as far as I can tell.
Later in 1994, The Breeders released the "Head to Toe" EP, which turned out to be their last great effort. Recorded possibly as a lead-in to what would have been their third album, but linked to 'Last Splash' with the uncredited inclusion of "Saints" on the B-Side, it ended up being the last of this version of the band's (the 'classic' line-up in my book) legacy. Soon after release, Kelley's well publicized smack problems (which involved her being arrested for receiving a package of heroin in the mail, if you don't remember) derailed the band, leaving "Head to Toe" standing alone. The title cut is a frenetic near garage-punk number penned by Wiggs and sung by Kim, with a charming, nearly lo-fi recording quality compared to lushness of 'Last Splash'. It also contains two great covers, a ringing guitar version of of Dayton compatriots Guided By Voices' "Shocker in Gloomtown" (a frequent show opener), and a primal sounding version of Sebadoh's "Freed Pig", an anti-J. Mascis Lou Barlow diatribe. The irony here being the EP was actually recorded by Mascis (and I'll always be on Lou's side of this argument, but I make exceptions for Kim Deal). This one was satisfyingly vinyl-only, with a widely distributed 10" version on black and a much rarer 7" version on minty green (which deletes "Saints" on the B-Side), and the one piece of Breeders vinyl that seemed to be readily available in the US. I've seen mention of a clear green version of the 10" as well, but have never seen one. And that really ends the Breeders saga for me. While Kelley dried out, Wiggs went on to do some solo stuff, never to return. Kim and Jim Macpherson formed The Amps, a Breeders sound-alike that never really took off, and some other things I wouldn't bother with. Kim reformed the band later in 2000, minus Macpherson, and picked up a band of East LA chicanos who were supposedly playing with Lee Ving's latest incarnation of Fear at the time (and also managed to wedge Kelley in there again...ugh). This is the band that recorded the "comeback" album 'Title TK' (with Albini at the controls once again), which never really sat well with me, as much as I love Kim Deal's stuff. There was a 10" ('Off You') that preceded the album which I had high hopes for which were never realized. But there were a couple of singles worth mentioning. The 'Huffer' EP (CD only, ugh) contains the best song off 'Title TK' and some pre-album demos where Kim plays everything, which are interesting. Then the 'Son of Three' 7", which has a re-recorded version of the title cut, a great cover of the 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' theme song, and a live version of "Safari". Not bad, but nothing that matches what the fantastic 'Last Splash' line-up were capable of.
Ephemera: there are some odds and ends to collect here. The Breeders actually had a fan club, which published two issues of 'Breeders Digest' (definitely indebted to the 'Sonic Death' fanclub zine), both of which came with a give-aways. The first issue came with a CD-EP with a faux 4AD design called "Live in Stockholm", eight tracks that opens with a stunning version of "...Gloomtown" from a tour supporting 'Last Splash'. Well recorded with great live banter from Kim, this is the best of the many live boots available. The second issue (three years later!) came with a two-song 7" featuring the Kim-only demos, officially released on the "Huffer" CD-EP. This issue also had plans for a third issue of the Digest, which never surfaced. As far as vinyl boot stuff, the only things I've ever seen are the "Pod Demos" 7", which also exists in extended-CD form, (which really aren't worth hunting for), and a suitably dodgy Italian boot called "Let's Breed" (and credited to the Breederds) with live from '92 songs with the 'Pod' line-up. There are several CD-only live boots available featuring the classic line-up from the the early Nineties, including "Never Mind The Pixies, Here's The Breeders" (various European shows, '93, not including Stockholm), "Sonic Ecstasy" (Chicago '94), "Double Trouble" (various '93), "Hello Baton Rouge" ('94, and my personal fave aside from The Stockholm suff). I should note that Breeders live stuff is especially noteworthy, as they were an extremely proficient live band (well, aside from Kelley) which I had the pleasure of witnessing four times. I have to say, I have never seen a woman look sexier chain-smoking and drinking beer than Kim Deal, and have seen no girl look more disgusting doing it than the haggard Kelley Deal, who is a true mess of a woman. In direct oppostion to her sister's sloppiness, Kim exudes fun and personality in the live setting, and actually sounds sexier in person than on the records.
So that's it. If you really want to hear any Breeders stuff, I'm quite sure you can find any of these releases on CD for a couple bucks in any used bin. It's well worth it if you aren't so underground you can't listen to anything on a major label, or that received radio airplay. Gimmie a break on that shit. Genuine pop fans shouls fall in love with 'Last Splash' unquestioningly. As for being accused of wimpery for being a fan, I plead innocence via being hypnotized by Kim Deal's voice. What's so gay about that? Case closed. Maybe next time we'll really get macho and talk about Barbara Manning...
'Closet Cases' is devoted to staff member's ramblings on albums or bands either overlooked, critically maligned, universally hated, generally thought to be shitty, lame, and/or just plain old b-a-d. It will look at records that perhaps fall out of scope of TB's usual underground ghetto, mainstream releases that are reviled for no good reason, popular artists' worst outings (or what are conceived to be), supposedly unlistenable genre fare, and other such things. The title refers to the fact that we all have a few records on our closets that need to come out and have their cases heard. Stay tuned, and if you've built a convincing case for a closet record, drop us a line: termibore-at-aol-dot-com.
To read past Closet Cases go here.
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