The fetishising of albums celebrating their 20-plus year anniversaries is well underway, as any RC reader will be aware. The desire to make things larger, with more sumptuous looks and exhaustive tracklists keeps stepping up a gear. That said, 4AD’s records were already housed in tactile, colour-treated shifting fields of art, from the mind of the label’s regular designer Vaughan Oliver, so anything as luxurious as a 4AD deluxe edition is bound to be special.
The 20th anniversary release of The Breeders’ second album is certainly exhaustive – and it most definitely looks the part. The original sleeves strawberry heart motif returns to adorn a box that houses the album, a live gig from Sweden, a disc of rarities, the singles and EPs from the era containing standalone tracks, and a book with interviews with the key players. But does the music warrant such microscopic attention?
Well, frankly, yes. As seems to be the norm with any US band from the early 90s, putting them in context with Nirvana pays dividends; indeed, The Breeders’ first ever gig was a warm up for a tour supporting them in 1992. But if Kurt et al were a screaming comet of punk energy, The Breeders boasted Kim Deal – from The Pixies no less: a sun that cast its shadow over later grunge icons. So she wins, basically, at every turn.
The surreally barbed lyricism of Pixies frontman Frank Black was only a part of that band’s magic. Behind every seismic stop-start shift in their much-copied sound there laid the Deal sweet spot: the vocal spoil, her lilt to the next, perfect chord. This came to the foreground within The Breeders, and was doubled, harmonically, with the addition of sister Kelley.
At the core of this new package there lies an album equal parts pure pop and warm, often fuzzy sonic experimentation. You hear the amps buzzing, waiting patiently to channel whatever the Deal sisters conjure. Cannonball is the big hit: a bubbly, loose art piece crammed with false starts, singalong sections, burst out noises and nods to reggae. And, while it’s a cliché to say so: it does still sound totally fresh today.
You also get a graceful paean to love that once was (and might be again) in Do You Love Me Now?, a country swagger from the Ed’s Redeeming Qualities cover, Drivin’ On 9, and an irresistible hardcore-pop element that runs rampant. The frenetic pace of I Just Wanna Get along is a joyous tease (be sure to check out Jim Macpherson’s bafflingly fast drums on the performance from the live album, Stockholm Syndrome), perhaps symptomatic of the scene at the time. That said, contemporaries such as Veruca Salt and L7 never had the Deal sisters’ sheer abandon and melodicism, and it’s this that endures after so long. Also worth checking out are tracks from the non-album and oft-overlooked Safari EP, including a cover of The Who’s So Sad About Us, and the thundering title track.
It would be nine years before another Breeders album arrived, by which time only Kim remained from the Last Splash line-up. 2002’s Title TK was a gentler, more measured and still wholly satisfying record, but its predecessor still holds pride of place in most fans’ strawberry hearts.