Album review: The Breeders – All Nerve (4AD)

Regroup, re-ignite

It’s a brick, look a little closer and you’ll see that the cover art is a broken engineering brick. Which is as good a metaphor for this album as anything, even if it suggests something a bit more brutal than most of the music actually delivers. The Breeders themselves are a little worn around the edges, this is their fifth album in over 25 years but they don’t seem to have lost their musical powers, if anything they have been honed to a greater precision. Originally formed in the late eighties as side project by Pixies bassist Kim Deal and Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donnelly the band morphed through various line ups before hitting the sweetspot with Kelley Deal on guitar, Josephine Wiggs on bass and Jim MacPherson on drums, who released the break out album Last Splash in 1993. Its success largely spurred by the hit single Cannonball which you will have heard even if only in snippets on the Prodigy’s Firestarter. But that line-up didn’t last as Wiggs left in 1996 and Kelley Deal was busted for drugs and went into rehab the same year.

What brought them back together was a 20th Anniversary tour for Last Splash in 2013, which went so well that the band got back into the studio last year to record All Nerve with the help of legendary producer Steve Albini among others. The result is a dynamic and lively 33.5 minutes of post grunge pop/rock that sounds a lot better than the Breeder’s most celebrated albums, in fact it’s a testament to the advances in studio technology that it has a raw edge without the obvious use of limiting. All but three of the 11 songs are sub three minutes, almost over before you know it but perfect for the soundbite tastes of the streaming generation. With its blazing guitars the first single Wait In The Car ignites a strong nostalgia for the band’s heyday but it’s got more tone than of yore, these aren’t youngsters anymore so they have some perspective and their engineer has found a bit more body and depth in the sound. You can easily hear why the Pixies wanted Kim Deal’s bass sound, it’s really chunky on the title track, a lament for lost love with big chords and simple lyrics that go straight to the heart of the matter: “I won’t stop, I will run you down, I’m all nerve”.

The best sounding track on the album is Spacewoman where the extra minute or so that they allow themselves provides a bit of space for the light and shade to stretch out and open up. Dawn Making an Effort is also pretty sweet and not just because of the great title, this is a slower tune with a weighty bass line and nice use of reverb on the guitar and the refrain “Dawn running us down, running us down”. They should know better by now but these rockers don’t know when to quit and it’s paying dividends for us and them.

Jason Kennedy

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