Beneath the Eyrie shows signs of the band figuring out what it wants to be now.
One could hardly fault the Pixies for the direction they’ve gone in recent years. After their initial reunion in 2004, it seemed as if so many of their contemporaries one-upped them by doing more than just getting together to run through the hits one more time. Pretty soon, the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Kim Deal’s own Breeders were releasing new music while the Pixies kept going as something of a nostalgia act. Thus, when the time came to actually make new Pixies music, it makes sense that they would lean towards making something that didn’t immediately evoke memories of Doolittle for longtime fans. Having said that, the results have been kind of a mess so far, with the best parts of Head Carrier coming across as merely serviceable while the regrettable Indie Cindy remains best left to the ash heap of history. Beneath the Eyrie runs into a problem different than either of those albums simply by virtue of being the best thing that the new-look Pixies have done so far. By any other standards, Beneath the Eyrie should be thoroughly mediocre, but the Pixies’ precipitous fall from grace makes the album more of a return to form than one would expect.
Of all the problems one could find with the new, Deal-less Pixies, the criticism that holds up the most is that the band has struggled to find an identity on its new albums. Without a proper foil for Black Francis, new Pixies music could easily be a third-tier Frank Black release. In contrast, Beneath the Eyrie shows signs of the band figuring out what its want to be now that the lineup has been solidified with Paz Lenchantin filling in on bass and backing vocals. Lenchantin’s presence as a whole seems to have reinvigorated the band a bit. Though she made tenuous steps to that effect on Head Carrier, she now seems to have been fully integrated into the dynamic, and her three co-writing contributions with Francis are all highlights on the album. “On Graveyard Hill” and “Los Surfers Muertos,” in particular, are among the liveliest cuts the band has made in recent years. Moreover, they help establish a dark, moody tone that veers towards a demented take on goth, which turns out to be a good place for the Pixies to end up now that Francis’ yelp has lowered to a grizzled growl. Francis sings with a different sort of menace now, and it helps make Beneath the Eyrie’s better tracks into something memorable.
It’s still a struggle to call this album a true return to form. While Beneath the Eyrie is better than the Pixies have been recently, some of the problems that plagued the previous two albums are still present in some shape or form here. The songwriting, while better this time, can still be uninspired. Sure, the band remembered to include at least one decent single in “Catfish Kate,” but there’s still time made for sub-Pixies knockoff songs like “St. Nazaire” and empty ballads like the sleep-inducing “Daniel Boone.” Furthermore, there’s no excuse for Francis to have written “Ready for Love,” the most trite thing the man’s ever put to record. Yes, Pixies albums have always had some strange digressions and off-beat tracks that some fans tolerate more than love, but Beneath the Eyrie’s attempt at continuing that questionable tradition is to include some pretty drab songs.
For its faults, though, Beneath the Eyrie is an encouraging step forward for a band who seemed all but dead and buried artistically just a few years ago. Perhaps the notion of a late renaissance from the Pixies wasn’t as much of a far-fetched idea as was previously thought. If you’re looking for one last truly great album from the indie icons, though, this sadly isn’t it. Alas, the Pixies Mk. 2 still have a few teething troubles to go through.