The Breeders are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their second studio album with the release of “Last Splash (30th Anniversary Original Analog Edition),” out Friday on 4AD.
The re-release won’t rewrite the history of the '90s alt-rock band, but it surfaces new curiosities from the vault, and it delivers plenty of opportunities for discovery within the landmark album’s songs and lyrics.
In 1990, Pixies bassist Kim Deal launched The Breeders as a side project to explore an independent creative direction. Their first album, “Pod,” was famously a favorite of Kurt Cobain. Three years later, Deal essentially shuffled the lineup, keeping bassist/cellist Josephine Wiggs and adding twin sister and guitarist Kelly Deal and drummer Jim MacPherson, and recorded “Last Splash.”
The Breeder’s unique blend of angular, sledgehammer instrumental and dreamy harmonies had more in common with bands such as The Kinks and early, live Go-Go’s performances than it did with the Pixies or any of their '90s contemporaries. And the band has proven too quirky to become a classic-rock staple. Perhaps, as a result, they still sound fresh three decades later.
The two new songs on the analog edition are welcome additions to the catalog.
“Go Man Go,” co-written with Frank Black from the Pixies, fits in just fine on the album, delivering a classic Breeders blend of punchy guitars and sweet harmonies. Nobody is going to mind an extra 2:16 runtime on “Last Splash.”
The second new track, “Divine Mascis,” features Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis on vocals in an alternate take on the Breeders' “Divine Hammer.”
After the Pixies years, Kim Deal was no stranger to eccentric vocalists, and the Breeders play it loose and swingy as Mascis groans the lines like Eeyore. His presence brings a whole new chemistry, but it works, and it is not too hard to imagine a parallel universe with Mascis in the lineup.
The impact of the remaster on the original “Last Splash” songs merits a close listen. The Breeders were never really an audiophile’s band. But this analog edition doesn’t try to clean them up – it instead doubles-down on their gritty side. Wiggs and Macpherson emerge from the background with a rhythm section as gritty as early Led Zeppelin, and the Deal twins’ harmonies soar.
The mid-album stretch best highlights the band’s high-wire act between oddball experimentation and pop sensibility. The remaster isolates the slide guitar on “No Aloha” and the shaky cello on “Roi” to make the songs more expansive. And the vocals on “Do You Love Me Now” soar, starting sweet and sad and growing in implied menace as the song builds.
The lyrics booklet is a hidden gem within the box set. The lines are typeset in concrete-poetry style, using various typefaces and styles. The treatment pays proper tribute to Kim Deal’s vivid, cryptic writing, in lyrics like: “I’ll be your whatever you want;” “Count the bubbles in your hand;” “Saw it on the wall, motherhood means mental freeze;” “Hag! Coastal cut throat! You dirty switch.” The booklet is a terrific read, even with the volume turned down.
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