Do You Love Me Now?
An entire epoch in the indie-rock world has passed since we last heard from the Breeders. Consider a friend and recent college graduate who remembers Last Splash, the band's benchmark album, as her favorite record--that is, back when she was still in the sixth grade. Perhaps it's unjust to dwell on the fact that it's been nine years since punk-rock queen Kim Deal dusted off that moniker. But, then, we are living in the age of American Idol, with bitchy British record executives such as Simon Cowell acting as our lords of decorum.
Imagine if Cowell suddenly landed a gig hosting MTV2's 120 Minutes. "Tsk tsk, Ms. Deal," he would sneer before screening the video for "Huffer," the single from the Breeders' latest, Title TK (4AD/Elektra). "It took you almost a decade to release this sedated version of your work, and you couldn't even be bothered to think of a proper name for your record?" ("Title TK" is publishing-industry speak for "title to come.")
At this point Paula Abdul, Cowell's cheerleading foil on American Idol, would pounce into camera view. (This sort of thing happens all of the time on MTV2.) "Kim, I've been a fan of yours since you were jamming in the shadow of that zaftig Frank Black," Abdul would coo. "I think you have a real solid record here."
And both judges would have a case. Title TK's opener, "Little Fury," is anything but a fury, even a little one. It's just a slow burner with party-hard lyrics: "Ah I will sing/Title TK/If I don't black out." While the music is rather snoozy, it still rings of heavy good times, although maybe not for those who fear that the Breeders have become a bunch of burnouts. (Kim Deal and sister Kelley are the only Breeders members left from the days of 1993. Kelley took a very public hiatus from the group in the mid-Nineties in order to clean up, and many thought that the group was gone for good.) Even so, it's not as if the Deals have been parking on their guitars all these years. Kelley served a stint here in town with the Kelley Deal 6000, and Kim's moderately successful project the Amps released Pacer in 1995.
Moreover, there are several definite rockers on Title TK. It just takes you until track six, "Son of Three," before you find one. Oh yeah, this song is about being high on nitrous gas. Excellent! That might explain its energy surge, which is especially obvious when it's compared with the tracks leading up to it. "Son of Three" thumps with mod beats and visions of driving in a convertible with an empty case of Whip-its. Come to think of it, Kim and Kelley Deal's voices sound as if some ghostly creature had sucked gas from a balloon and then begun singing pleasantly about naughty things.
Pleasant: Yes, that's a good word to describe many of the songs on Title TK. "Off You," which is reminiscent of the intro to Last Splash's "No Aloha," features dreamy strumming, the slowest of slides up the guitar neck, and cryptic lyrics: "I land to sail/Island said/Yeah we're movin'." Yet unlike "No Aloha," this song never turns the tempo up a notch. Instead, it drones on for almost five minutes, quietly fading to the next track, "The She," which, in spite of a more menacing tone and eerie organ, doesn't intimidate as much as it hypnotizes.
But just when things get sleepy, curious moments occur, such as the reemergence of the thigh-slapping song "Full on Idle," which also appeared on Pacer. Curiouser still, "Sinister Foxx" features a memorably crazy drunken-lady question repeated ad infinitum, "Has anyone seen the iguana?" Which iguana are they talking about? Uh, I don't know. Also curious is the fact that Title TK's strongest song, the aforementioned "Huffer," is left for the last track of the entire record. Here we have a fast, no-nonsense pop-punk song with nonsensical "Da da da's" for a refrain. But even as the record ends on a strong rocker, something seems missing. "Huffer" is not exactly a "Cannonball," nor an "I Just Wanna Get Along." A certain passion or earnestness is missing, a certain joie de Deal. Title TK lacks an agitating force to stir things up: This pleasant indie rock glides on at its leisure.
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