Indie Cindy represents either an act of masochistic bravado, a display of stark determination, or—and this is the worst option—an act of blindered ignorance. The Pixies’ first album in 23 years is a compendium of tracks they released on two EPs and one single, the first released way back in September and the most recent in January. To say none of these was well-received might be to understate the soul-wrenching disappointment the EPs triggered in fans and critics. Despite that reaction, the Pixies have gone ahead and actually rereleased these songs in LP form. So they’re either trolling us, following through on Plan A despite the opposition, or simply ignoring the obvious: These aren’t very good Pixies songs.
It’s not like these songs sound any better or any worse on Indie Cindy than they did on EP1, EP2 and the “Bagboy” single. The only real difference is that there are more of them, which is a big check in the minus column. The songs still sound like pallid imitations of the Pixies’ best material, as though created by a local Pixies covers band. On the other hand, this isn’t the actual Pixies. After mysteriously breaking up in 1993—Black reportedly fired the band via fax—they reunited in 2004 with a string of live shows that solidified their legacy as the fountainhead of 1990s alt-rock. And then they just kept playing, eventually staying reunited longer than they had been together originally. Last year, bass player/singer/songwriter Kim Deal left the group to focus on solo material and Breeders shows. She was replaced by Kim Shattuck of the Muffs, who was reportedly fired for stage-diving; her replacement, Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle, is by all reports still with the band.
So there’s a Deal-shaped hole in the Pixies sound. On their first two albums, she was integral to the band’s mix of raw punk attack and sophisticated pop hooks, offering a female counterpoint to and a vocal foil for Black. Without her—or without another strong personality anchoring the group—Indie Cindy just sounds like a Frank Black solo record, with old pals David Lovering and Joey Santiago backing him. As a singer he slips easily into a perverse falsetto on “Magdalena 318” and “Andro Queen” that is perhaps the most compelling sound on the album. On the other hand, he falls back on that old carnival-barker sing-speak on “Bagboy” and the title track. “I’m the burgermeister of Purgatory,” he yells on the latter. “You put the cock in cocktail, I put the tail in…wait!” There’s nothing sadder than forced weirdness, which too often curdles into humorless self-parody and what-the-fuck nonsense.
“They call this dance the washed-up crawl,” he asserts blindly on that same song, which describes the album pretty accurately. Too much of Indie Cindy sounds like paint-by-numbers alt-rock, heavy on fizzled guitar pyrotechnics and uninspired melodies. The programmed beats and call-and-response vocals on “Bagboy” haven’t grown any less grating or any more inspired over the last few months. “Ring The Bell” and “Another Toe in the Ocean” could literally have been made by any crappy buzz band in the ‘90s, but that’s not the kind of nostalgia you want out of a reunion record.
Of course, it’s difficult—impossible even—to recapture the urgency and drive of youth, especially if your youth produced albums like Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. What makes Indie Cindy so egregious, so much worse than a simply bad album, is how much better it could have been. There are moments when you catch a fleeting glimpse of the weird, wild band they once were and the expectations-defying act they could be. Opener “What Goes Boom” opens with a crunchy AC/DC riff and Black barking out lyrics like he’s lobbing grenades. “Blue Eyed Hexe” picks up on that crunch and makes you wonder if the Pixies might have a good ZZ Top covers album in them. Probably not.
And then there’s “Greens and Blues,” which might sound like a lesser tune on any other Pixies album but is a standout here. As Santiago adds an effortlessly majestic guitar riff, Black unspools the chorus with a wink and a shrug, as if he had no use for an actual audience: “I’m wasting your time, just talking to you,” he muses. “Maybe best you go on home.” Tragically, those lines hit a little too close to home.