Monday, July 1, 2013

Why I'm Glad That Kim Deal Left the Pixies

The release of "Bagboy," the Pixies' first new song in nine years and their first startlingly good one in 22, will probably kick off a new set of gripes and sighs from fans still recovering from Kim Deal's announcement that she had left the band last month. It's always sad to see an excellent team split up, but in the curious case of the Pixies, it's also a relief.

It's hard to remember how mind-blowing it was when the Pixies reunited in 2004. Their influence and popularity had grown exponentially since their break-up, and most of us thought we'd never get a chance to see them. No former indie rock band sparked more of a will-they-or-won't-they debate--it seemed obvious that Pavement and Guided by Voices were coming back, while Hüsker Dü and the Smiths were always a lost cause. And as anyone who caught that first comeback tour can tell you, it was glorious. All the songs and insanity that a superfan could hope for.

But if the Pixies' legacy had grown in their absence, it seemed to diminish with every year that they spent touring without a new album. Here they are again, the Pixies, on another summer tour playing the old hits. A lot of people were fine with this, judging how how lucrative those tours have been. But I want to know that my favorite bands are pushing themselves artistically, and not just resting on their classics. Anything to show that they were an actual band again, not just a nostalgia act like the Eagles.

It's quite possible that a new Pixies album would not have been good. But it would have been better than nothing, which is what they were doing. The fact that they've finally released a new song now that Kim's left, and have promised to play new songs on their upcoming tour, makes me wonder if Kim was holding them back. Of course she was a crucial part of the band, but as "Bagboy" proves, Black Francis, David Lovering and Joey Santiago can be exciting without her. They even sound good enough to fool Rolling Stone and Pitchfork into mistakenly reporting that Deal appeared on "Bagboy" in their initial news stories. The Pixies are going to be fine.

Greg Kot once wrote of My Bloody Valentine (I can't find the exact quote) that when a band reunites, they get one comeback tour, a victory lap before they need to start releasing new material. The new stuff doesn't have to be great. The mediocre new Stooges album does nothing to diminish Raw Power or Fun House, much less their always-phenomenal live shows. If you're going to tour once and then stop, like At the Gates, then we're lucky that we got to see you again. If you're going to come back for good and release new albums, like Black Sabbath, then we're lucky that you're still a band. But don't just tour year after year without anything to show for it.

I hope that Kim's departure is the kick in the ass that the Pixies need right now, and "Bagboy" indicates that it is. Maybe Frank Black will release a great solo album, or maybe he'll record something new with his bandmates. He's made great records without Deal before, and anything that he writes is still worth a listen. Maybe Kim will do something cool with the Breeders. Maybe Kim Shattuck from the Muffs, Deal's replacement, will bring out something new in the Pixies. Maybe they'll all get back together again in ten years, and it'll be amazing again. But whatever they do, it has to be better than the past nine years of studio silence.


M said...

I dunno, I get what you're saying but I also disagree (respectfully!).

I think it's always problematic when a phenomenal band like Pixies reunite or keep going without an important band member. I know it's been done a million times and yes sometimes it works but I don't really know if it works when there has been such personification of the band based around particular members. You can't have Sonic Youth without Kim Gordon. People are still debating Van Halen eras even now!

Sure, I understand that Pixies are different now and that they need to keep releasing new material in order to be viable (of course!) but I think without Kim Deal they aren't them any more. That's okay. They don't have to be that band any more they can be a new band. They just can't be Pixies.. can they?

Ben Apatoff said...

Hi M,

Thank you for reading, and for your thoughtful response. Whether or not they're still Pixies without Kim Deal is up for debate. She's definitely a crucial part of the band, and they probably shouldn't use the Pixies name without her. But anything that Frank, Joey and David come up with will be worth hearing. If it's not great, it still won't take anything away from Surfer Rosa.