It’s never made all that much sense to attribute a band member leaving to a decline in that band’s quality. That’s not to say it can’t happen, like if the departing member has such an inimitable presence that it simply can’t be matched, or if the case in question is a total Smashing Pumpkins-esque do-over, but the vast majority of the time, the impact isn’t as dire as many will make it out to be. Of course, there will undoubtedly be plenty of Pixies fans who’ll put Kim Deal into the former camp as the talismanic bassist present on classic albums like Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, but to reduce the band’s recent iffier work down as a result of her simply not being there wouldn’t be totally genuine. In truth, both Indie Cindy and Head Carrier aren’t exactly terrible albums, but they’re classic examples of a veteran band returning to making music after an extended period of time without being able to hit the spark that’s earned them the title of alt-rock giants in the past. Whether they’ll ever regain that spark is up for debate, but they’re by no means more predetermined to fail now than they ever were.
With Beneath The Eyrie though, that doesn’t even feel all that relevant, because this most certainly isn’t a failure. If anything, it goes even further than that, standing as the Pixies’ best post-Deal release and showing that they’re more than capable of surviving and avoiding the dire straits that so many believe they’re heading towards. It’s definitely not a classic, but that’s not what anyone was really expecting; rather, this is a fresh course taken that finds a band free of the shackles of formula that constrain so many other acts of their vintage, and dish out greatly enjoyable album from it.
And it’s worth noting that, even among the freshness that Beneath The Eyrie exhibits, there’s plenty at its core that bears the immediate hallmarks of a Pixies album. The content is the obvious first port of call, checking off all the usual thematic touchstones of darker biblical imagery like on opener In The Arms Of Mrs. Mark Of Cain, while also fixating on its own offbeat sensibilities in supernatural bents on Graveyard Hill and Silver Bullet, as well as a Lewis Carroll-esque sense of absurdism for Catfish Kate. Truth be told, it’s not too far out of this band’s regular wheelhouse, and while Catfish Kate presents probably the most standout pieces of imagery across the album in its defter, oddly whimsical touches, it’s easy to generally forget about the lyrics here. They work for what they are and that shouldn’t be dismissed, but it’s not like the Pixies haven’t crafted far more stark mental pictures on songs like Wave Of Mutilation or Monkey Gone To Heaven, and Beneath The Eyrie’s writing for the most part feels like an exercise in keeping pace over rising above any previous work.
It definitely does keep that pace as well; there’s nothing shoddy or outright lazy about the Pixies’ efforts here, and that’s a good foundation to lay down early on. What feels like the biggest vault, though, comes in the execution, and how the band have moved away from a grunge or power-pop influence that could be seen as rudimentary, and brought a wealth of richer sounds to augment them and create the creaking, haunted atmosphere that’s a much better fit, both for where they’re going in a lyrical direction and for the age the band is at now. The latter is most evident in Black Francis’ vocals which have leaned into how sunken and gravelly they’ve become over time, and how that forms agreat pseudo-post-punk basis on St. Nazaire, or even something reminiscent of a more approachable Nick Cave against the woozy bass skips of This Is My Fate. There’s a deeper, charcoal-hued undertone that runs through most of Beneath The Eyrie, but it’s impressive that the Pixies are still more than capable of bring some variety among that, especially when it almost always hits the right spot. The washed-out indie-rock of Los Surfers Muertos led by current bassist Paz Lenchantin’s reverberating vocals feels just as natural as the irresistible mid-paced pop-rock of Catfish Kate or the acoustic flutters of Bird Of Prey, as the Pixies show a natural versatility that really hasn’t gone away at all. There’s less of a sense of volatility than some previous instances, but Beneath The Eyrie feels as though it’s reached the natural point that this band should be at at this stage in their career, done so with grace and without too much compromise.
Of course, that alone isn’t going to be the convincing factor for those who’ve gotten off the Pixies train already, but this is honestly as close as they’ve come to hitting their former glories in some time. Again, a full-fledged return to that era was never a realistic thought, but Beneath The Eyrie has a creativity and twinkle in its eye that’s not a million miles off, if one that’s a bit more subdued and measured on the whole. That’s not a bad thing in itself though, especially when the Pixies have done as much with it as they have here, and it’s what ultimately brings Beneath The Eyrie across the finish line with its head held high. They’ve grown a lot more comfortable with where they are in their career, but haven’t totally forgone an experimental streak in the process, and Beneath The Eyrie feels like the best possible example of how that could come together for them now.
For fans of: Sonic Youth, Pavement, Nirvana
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Beneath The Eyrie’ by Pixies is released on 13th September on BMG Rights Management.