‘Beneath The Eyrie’ by the Pixies comes at you like a wave – twenty feet high, drenched from the players’ exertions and all American. It’s an important record right now because it helps explain what has happened to rock made in the US, a country where once stages were crammed with talented peacocks, long before today’s (inevitable) cultural entropy.
You cue the figurative stylus, you sit, and then something curious happens. You soon stop listening. You stop listening because you’ve heard it all before. The sound is best described as global. It’s aimed at that market. It is, therefore, radio friendly and I’m not sure rock ought to be friendly. Was it ever?
Kicking off with ‘In The Arms Of Mrs Mark of Cain’ you find more clues as to how the recipe has changed; the guitar comes over as an industrialised Dick Dale-ish wail but to the fore there’s the slickness of too diligent mixing and an incongruous new wave danceability. Then comes ‘On Graveyard Hill’ that is the sort of song you might find Robert De Niro dancing to in one of his knowing rom-com films. Yes, okay, these days it’s all too easy to be scornful of modern essays at rock thrustings, but if a band has the big bucks, the energy and animus to commit its skill and nous to studio time, it must owe its audience a work that hits between the eyes instead of tickling the comfortably numb perineum. Not that this record does either of those things.
But there’s a fragility in this 12-track record; an American male rock fragility evident in a product that wants to cater to a younger audience that perhaps doesn’t like rock. That might never like rock. In making this record, undoubtedly in the name of modernity, some wrong boxes have been ticked. But then one might argue that the Pixies aren’t a full-blooded rock band and instead play grunge, or alt pop; you see, there’s something for everyone (which might be the problem).
Certainly, American society has changed over the past three decades with the rock idiom having become an obvious cultural casualty, today left behind in a parlous and querulous state. There’s still an audience for rock, yes, but it’s an ageing one. It’s an audience that might even be growing nostalgic for the good old days when Marshall amps thundered like jet engines in a legendary profusion of darkened clubs.
But don’t take my word for any of it because opinions are like perineums. Everyone’s got one.
‘Beneath The Eyrie’ is out on 13 September on BMG/Infectious