When the Pixies reunited in 2004, it seemed obvious that the point was to finally, literally capitalize on the slow-burn rise in stature that they’d experienced in the dozen years since they’d originally split. A new song, the joyous grind “Bam Thwok,” appeared almost immediately, but that seemed to be merely proof of concept for the reunion. Even (or especially) as the tours racked up in the decade that followed, it didn’t seem like anyone expected the revived Pixies to be anything other than a live act. Then came 2014’s “Indie Cindy,” and it was no longer sufficient for the Pixies to simply show up. Now they had to produce.
“Beneath the Eyrie,” out Friday, is album number three of the Pixies Mark II, well beyond the point where it would be acceptable for them to churn out reiteration after reiteration of the music they had before. (In fact, you could argue the same about album number three of the Pixies Mark I.) So it’s understandable that the band has morphed to a point where it’s no longer simply hitting familiar beats (and shrieks). But it’s not clear what the band that made “Beneath the Eyrie” wants to be.
For evidence, look no further than “Ready For Love” and “On Graveyard Hill,” both constructed around drummer David Lovering’s driving, hunched-over thwack, Joey Santiago’s scrawling guitar, and (on the former) Black Francis and bassist Paz Lenchantin sharing a familiar male/female unison vocal. They’re practically textbook Pixies, except for the fact that they come and go without incident (hardly a Pixies trademark). That lack of distinctiveness pervades “Beneath the Eyrie,” both on a song-by-song basis and taken as a whole. The superchunky “Catfish Kate” has a poppy bounce but not much of a center, lacking the rictus grin that gave “Here Comes Your Man” its juice, and some neat shuddering punctuating “Silver Bullet” can’t save it from being an imperious glare that says less than it lets on.
A few songs are effective on their own terms. “Los Surfers Muertos” is dreamy, albeit with a dark undertow, and Black Francis sings with an aggressive, guttural growl that’s quite effective on the murky surf-rock of “St. Nazaire.” And some of the old magic bleeds through in the strangest places. Leave it to the Pixies to come up with a dusky lounge-country tune called “Death Horizon” and use it to end the album on an upbeat note, somehow. And ghostly harmonies and melodicism light up the gorgeously slow-charging “Daniel Boone.” It doesn’t sound like the Pixies the way the old Pixies sounded like the Pixies. It sounds like the Pixies in a new and different way. “Beneath the Eyrie” could’ve used a lot more like it.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.