SOUNDGARDEN – DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (1996)

THE BREEDERS – LAST SPLASH (1993)

August 30th, 1993, The Breeders released their second album, Last Splash, on 4AD/Elektra Records. Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly formed the earliest incarnation of The Breeders in 1989 as a side project alongside their full-time bands Pixies and Throwing Muses, respectively. For their debut album, 1990’s Pod, Deal and Donelly were augmented by bassist Josephine Wiggs of The Perfect Disaster and drummer Britt Walford of Slint. In 1992, after the departure of Donelly and Walford, Kim asked her twin sister Kelley Deal to join as drummer, but Kelley had other ideas.

Kim stated in 1993, “When I asked her, ‘Kelley, why don’t you play drums? We’ll be a three-piece. I can play guitar, Josephine can play bass, and you can play the drums. Nirvana did it! We could be a three-piece.’ Kelley goes, ‘No, I don’t want to play drums’. I said, ‘Okay, what do you want to play?’ ‘I want to play lead guitar.’ ‘Kelley, you can’t play guitar’. ‘I don’t care. I want to play the guitar anyway’. “That was pretty much how it went, and she got to be the lead guitar player!”

And so began the “classic” line-up of the Breeders. Kim Deal, Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, and newly drafted drummer Jim McPherson recorded and released what may have been 1993’s most unlikely candidate for a platinum-selling LP. But, powered by the juggernaut single “Cannonball,” Last Splash became just that. Outselling most of their contemporaries. The Breeders’ sharper pop aesthetic and metallic edge fit the zeitgeist of the time like a glove.

The album opens with “New Year.” which dizzily pours from the speakers like a drunken stupor before finding its stride—cascading sheets of guitar noise rain around an insistent gallop of bass and drums. “New Year’s” brief stay gives the listener a good overview of what’s to come on the rest of the album, with its atmospheric slow-burn and grinding noise rock.

Kim Deal was initially puzzled as to why “Cannonball” took off like it did, “You know, the first single has vocal feedback using my brother’s harmonic mic plugged into the Marshall. But back then, that was not considered radio-friendly, and I definitely wasn’t sitting around going, ‘Hmm… how can I make this the most palatable for the most people?'”

Spike Jonze and Sonic Youth royalty Kim Gordon directed the accompanying music video. In it, the camera trails a cannonball rolling on its mysterious trajectory through neighbourhood streets, cutting to the band performing in a garage. Whether by design or pure happenstance, “Cannonball” and its video became the perfect song and visuals for the time. It was also a great introduction to The Breeders for the uninitiated.

The track summed up the quirky, playful heart of the band perfectly.
Listening to Last Splash, it’s obvious how much heart and soul Kim Deal poured into her first significant post-Pixies creative statement. (Pod, the Breeders’ debut album, was released while The Pixies were still together.) She co-produced Last Splash and wrote most of its music and lyrics, showing off a ferocious songwriting range. The sisters’ symbiotic interplay binds the album’s disparate strands together. While Josephine Wigg and Jim McPherson create a powerful rhythm section for the Deals to bounce off.

While The Breeders have serious musical chops, as evident from the masterful performances all around, Deal’s singing truly sets them apart. “Invisible Man” has the kind of lusty vocals that can colour a song with just a sigh. “I Just Wanna Get Along” is pissed off, the chorus dripping with contempt. Josephine Wiggs’ powerful bass rips throughout, pushing the energy to a fever pitch.

“No Aloha” sounds shockingly current thirty years later and inevitably shares quite a bit of Pixies D.N.A. Divine Hammer pulsates with mellifluous harmonies and persistent, driving guitars. Deal mocking Christian symbolism (or maybe searching for something more carnal, who knows..?), “I’m just looking for a faith, Waiting to be followed, It disappears this near, You’re the rod, I’m water, I’m just looking for one divine hammer..”

The leering grunge howl of “Saints” and “SOS” ooze with raw energy and suburban restlessness, both channelling and condensing the reckless urgency of live noise-scapes into the limitations of a studio recording. “Hag” bounces with an off-kilter, slacker zeal. “Flipside” is a manic instrumental with crashing cymbals, surging guitars and vigorous hook lines. The thick, throbbing guitars of “Roi” are warm and coldly sharp. Vocals are buried and bestial as the song shifts into a murky haze, the drums depart, and a vigorously bowed cello stands out as timekeeper, only for the band to return with sledgehammer weight and conviction.

“Do You Love Me Now” is a beautiful slow chug, referencing classic ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n roll, if it was mangled and spat out of a ’90s alt-rock canon. “Mad Lucas” is a lucid fever dream, “Arise, wash your face from cinder and soot, you’re a nuisance, and I don’t like dirt…” “Driving On 9” is a beautiful country folk gem with fiddles and banjos. The deadpan delivery from Deal is gorgeously endearing and perfectly pitched. “Roi (Reprise)” ends the album with an exhilarating blast.

The Breeders managed the near impossible with Last Splash. They achieved mainstream success with a defiantly individual album that never once conformed to the tropes of the day. Yes, it was a far more tolerant time within the rock community. Individuality, originality, experimentation and eccentricity were encouraged. But even under those conditions, Last Splash’s success is quite an achievement.

Mixing noise rock, rock ‘n roll, surf rock, shoegaze, country, folk, grunge and a kitchen sink or two, the band expertly brought all these flavours to the table and served a feast. They didn’t conform to traditionally feminine ideals; they were alluring simply because they were themselves, flaws and all.

Recording the album, Kelley Deal ran a sewing machine through a Marshall amp to create some of the more unique sounds on the album. Jim McPherson famously dropped his cymbals from the studio’s second-storey windows because they sounded “too new.”

Asked whether this approach to making an album was the band’s attempts at spontaneity, Kim Deal replied: “Spontaneous? No. To me, it all makes complete sense. How else are we going to get the cymbals to stop ringing out? Since then, I’ve seen that you can buy cracked cymbals, so I’m not crazy. As far as micing up the sewing machine, that is a little weird. But it does sound good…”

In the battle of the post-Pixies projects, Charles was the overwhelming favourite and most likely to succeed. Even the staunchest Kim supporters harboured niggling doubts about whether the magnetic bassist could be trusted to skipper her own vessel without the steadying hand of a Black Francis or even a Tanya Donelly (who left The Breeders after the “Safari” EP in 1992 to focus on Belly). In the end, though, it was Kim who came out on top. Last Splash, The Breeders’ triumphant second album, comfortably outsold Frank Black’s chugging solo debut and every Pixies album.

Extensive touring, Lollapalooza appearances, chart success and long stints opening for Nirvana followed in the wake of Last Splash’s release. For a time, The Breeders were on top of the world. Ultimately, the wheels came off the wagon. But while it lasted, it was glorious. Last Splash is a concentrated blast of brilliance. It is an album that sums up all that was so unique, quirky and beautiful about ’90s alternative rock.