Pixies – ‘EP2’

There's no nostalgic glances back in time from Black Francis and co on this bold new release

If Orson Welles was resurrected tomorrow, would he want to remake Citizen Kane in 4K CGI for the IMAX? Would Michelangelo have a crack at another chapel to prove he still had it? Would DH Lawrence, noting the successes of Fifty Shades Of Grey, rush out Lady Chatterley’s BDSM Lover to cash in? Ten years into their reunion and, with the advent of new material, the Pixies discussion is now all about authenticity and protectionism – how dare they taint a virtually faultless body of work in the late 80s and early 90s by recording new songs and playing without Kim Deal, herself a long-term advocate of not screwing with the legacy? How could they ever dream of matching ‘Gouge Away’, ‘Where Is My Mind?’ or ‘Motorway To Roswell’, at their age?

It’s a reductive argument – any fan of imaginatively scabrous alternative rock craves more Pixies songs like Cornwall, Devon and Wales currently crave sandbags. And contrary to all expectation, they’re doing a stunning job of imagining what the glossier Pixies record that never got made between the harsh metallic slashes of ‘Trompe Le Monde’ and the esoteric melodicism of Frank Black’s solo debut might have sounded like. As with the brilliant ‘EP-1’ these four new tracks, produced by Gil Norton of ‘Doolittle’ infamy, eschew any attempt to recreate the breathless brutalities of ‘Doolittle’ or ‘Surfer Rosa’ and instead move Pixies boldly on. Thankfully down a less sludgy path than The Catholics.

Drawing a fresh line away from ‘Trompe Le Monde’, it starts with a Joey Santiago guitar line reminiscent of the opening squeals of that album’s title track before descending into a chainsawed-to-fuck AC/DC freeway thump, complete with Black Francis unleashing his most rabid metal screech and Dave Lovering on country-punk cowbell. This is ‘Blue Eyed Hexe’, the story of coming under the spell of a “witch-woman” with a “star carved on her chest” – a classic strand of Pixies sexual mythology harking back to ‘Nimrod’s Son’ but apparently inspired by the north-west of England, where we can only assume Francis witnessed some of Preston’s more outré swinging. Meanwhile, Joey’s guitars are sharper and more brutal than ever, lifting the song above the chug rock morass that Pixies Mk 2 can catch a foot in at times, and the tired tropes of sorcery rock. A Hogwarts ‘U-Mass’, essentially.

With that, the menace of Pixies’ early work dissipates and the heavy melodic space of ‘Bossanova’ invades ‘Magdalena’. With Francis’ phantom vocals drifting airily by and Joey’s guitars shifting between undergrowth growl and UFO noises, it makes a nifty sister-piece to ‘Andro Queen’ from ‘EP-1’ and occupies the same soothing space on ‘EP-2’ as ‘Havalina’ and ‘All Over The World’ did on ‘Bossanova’. ‘Greens And Blues’, on the other hand, is designed to stand out, Francis’ proclaimed attempt at a replacement for Kim Deal-era set-closer ‘Gigantic’. An end-of-the-night tune sung by a sailor (and possible alien interloper, knowing Charles) leaving an ephemeral “shore”, you can’t see it ever being quite that totemic but it’s certainly the most grab-at-the-sky Big Pop moment the new EPs have produced so far. Although dark flamenco pop closer ‘Snakes’ gives it a run for its money, coursing with the urgency of slithering agents of evil descending on a homestead.

Only a smidgeon less euphoric than ‘EP-1’, ‘EP-2’ is another brief broadside that further justifies Pixies’ drip-drip release plan, keeping their ten-year-tour on the road and the intrigue of their new material relentlessly fresh. It’s not ‘Doolittle’, sure, but who’d want The Mona Lisa 2?

Mark Beaumont