Most discussions of new Pixies material seems obliged to mention how they ‘aren’t the same band’ anymore. Inevitably that refers to a missing spark that was taken by Kim Deal upon her departure in 2013, but in truth, Pixies don’t have it that much worse than most bands of their vintage. The coolness that’s widely met their post-hiatus, post-Deal material is valid, sure, but a lot of it can also be attributed to overly-heightened expectations not being met. A band like this who, in their heyday, were brazen progenitors of the freakshow of the ‘90s’ alt-nation were never going to last like that forever, and so that’s possibly why Doggerel has emerged with surprisingly little buzz. This current incarnation of Pixies now has as many albums as their classic one did, meaning that the current bar has been skewed enough to know what to expect, and for past listeners to dip out if need be.
The thing is though, Pixies’ newer work has been meeting expectations, at least in terms of what it feels like they should be doing. They’re still a weird band who write weird songs and treat alt-rock like the Wild West that it once was, only now feeling a bit older and keeping more in pace with that mindset. The key thing to note is that the pejorative mood of a statement like that implies the dull, drained, late-period fare emblematic of older bands falling into creative funks, something which has never debilitated Pixies to even near the same extent.
Consider that a necessary buffer for going into Doggerel then, or the reassurance that it really isn’t that bad. It’s also far from the same level as classic work—on the basis that a band who’s been around this long will always be past that after a certain time—but weirdo Americana is still firmly where this band are resting. That comes more in a Western feel to Haunted House or The Lord Has Come Back Today, built primarily on acoustic guitars and the swirling, dusty expanse of the sound that Pixies evoke. Particularly when that’s built up on the gallop of Dregs Of The Wine or the darker tinges that dye rock-solid alt-rock like Vault Of Heaven and There’s A Moon On, it’s all very indicative of what an album from an older Pixies is liable to sound like. There’s almost a gothic undertone to how it all comes together, meant in a very rural, Americanised way that fits with still ample room to wander.
Thus, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Doggerel is Pixies in vibe over most else. The surface-level instrumental direction is clearly moving, but the band at the centre are very much in their normal mindset, particularly as far as this latter-day incarnation is concerned. They remain armed with a lyrical style that could be about everything and nothing all at the same time, delivered by Black Francis with dry, enigmatic wit. He’s no longer as much of a shrieking powerhouse presence as he once was, though the intent remains intact, as he splices together vignettes and snapshots ranging from the biblical and the phantasmagorical, to whether The Kinks’ original version of You Really Got Me is superior to the Van Halen cover.
It’s all very lodged within Pixies’ wheelhouse, even if, like a lot of its preceding releases, the enormity of it all can feel diminished. That’s more of a blanket issue than one with Doggerel itself, but it still stands, perhaps a bit more so given how comparatively eased-back this album can be. There can be less emphasis on instrumental strength as a whole; the hollow knell of guitar is always an appealing sound when it shows up, but it wouldn’t be unfair to state that Paz Lenchantin has a prominent bassline that leaps off the page, or even that the umbrella competency of this album moves a bit too far in the troubadour direction than is beneficial. Outside of the granite-carving surge of There’s A Moon On and maybe the shifting styles of opener Nomatterday, Doggerel isn’t an album that stands up when measured on its individual cuts, compared to itself as a full body of work.
That isn’t that much of a shortcoming weighing it down then, not when the full experience feels like the point. It’s the direction that a band like Pixies would go in, even this far down the line, and while Doggerel isn’t reassembling the status of the band in 2022, it holds firm on the fact that they’re still good, and that they’ve still got plenty of ideas. Moreover, they’re ageing with a lot of grace here, in what feels like the right pace for them that yields results that do satisfy overall, regardless of which direction they go in. That’s been true of a lot of their recent work, and Doggerel fits neatly among them; the apex is behind them, but the ride down is still nowhere near as steep as some may think.
For fans of: Violent Femmes, Dinosaur Jr, The Replacements
‘Doggerel’ by Pixies is released on 30th September on BMG.
Words by Luke Nuttall