While not as harsh as their early ventures, the Pixies new album Beneath the Eyrie is darker in tone than their earlier fare. In Eyrie, the Pixies take on a gothic-inspired rock sound, which at times is a slower venture than a classic Pixies romp; however, familiar song and lyric structures and stylings are still delivered. While it is not the strongest album from the Pixies, Eyrie produces a unique sound compared to the rest of the bands discography, lending to its validity as a welcome part of the Pixies back-catalogue.
A slower, deeper, and an overall darker tone is the commonality binding the album together. There are points when this alone doesn’t create a strong enough binding bringing the collection of tracks together, but it flows quite well in to a respectable 38-minute package. The gothic nature is a warm welcome for the 90’s indie stars, one that has already been mentioned well enough throughout this review, because it’s such a strong distinct sound — and, more importantly, a successful one. Since reforming without essential member Kim Deal, the Pixies have admittedly struggled to find a new voice in a new decade. 2014’s Indie Cindy was nothing more than a blunder and blight on the Pixie catalogue, an album that wasn’t divisive, but rather universally disappointing. Head Carrier (which came in 2016), while better than Indie Cindy, is still a small effort when compared to Doolittle, Trompe le Monde, and Surfer Rosa.
Beneath the Eyrie comes as the first step forward for the Pixies towards reaching the greatness found in their early 80’s and 90’s years, while not quite reaching that mark quite yet. This step forward is a development due to this goth sound and ending the effort to find their glory days. The Pixies and its members are taking on their adulthood, the new struggles they are now facing in this new era, and discussing them rather bluntly, most notably the recent divorce of front man Black Francis. This gives a spark of maturity hinting towards the beginning of a new period in the Pixies’ history. I don’t think that the Pixies should hold on tightly to their new style, but rather use this to continue their exploration.
Beginning with “In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain,” the album starts off wearing its gothic influences on its sleeve. The opening instrumentals deliver a dark atmosphere before the drums and guitar enter to carry the rest of the song. Francis uses his deep tone of voice, a now-matured gravelly
accent, throughout the album to carry the gothic melody, and “Mark of Cain” acts as a well enough opener to introduce the more aged themes of struggle and separation that are found throughout the album. The thematic nature of witches and other “dark arts” are symbolic of addiction and divorce, among other things.
Following the opener is the most Pixie song out of the lot, “On Graveyard Hill”, and it is arguably the best track on “Beneath the Eyrie.” Its energetic guitar and drum instrumental following the opening chords are catchy and interesting, and the songwriting on the track is superb. Moving forward, other standout tracks include “Silver Bullet,” “This is my Fate,” and “Daniel Boone.” “Silver Bullet,” to me, sounds like if the Pixies made a gothic cover of “Hotel California.” It is another example of the times on the album when the lyrical ability can match the Pixies’ compelling instrumentals. “This Is My Fate” is a begrudging drinking song which focuses on the nature of addiction. The repetition symbolizes the cycle of falling deeper and deeper into an addictive behavior. “Daniel Boone,” however, is about reincarnation and coming to terms with suddenly meeting one’s premature end. Beginning with a nice, strumming guitar, the song is slower, a good contrast to the louder few songs previously played before it (“Los Surfers Muertos,” “St. Nazaire,” and “Bird of Prey”). It’s a calming reflection on life and what it means for it to end. If I were the Pixies, I would have ended the album on this song.
However, I am not a member of the Pixies, and they keep going. The album closer highlights one of the most glaring issues that this album has: lyrical quality. There are moments throughout this album where the songwriting is corny, or at the very least, not up to par with the band’s earlier records —most notably on “Ready for Love” and the closer, “Death Horizon.” The refrain on “Ready for Love” isn’t subtle in its message or tone, a song on Francis’ divorce that is an overall exclamation to an old partner and
possibly new ones that he is “ready for love.” The song writing’s repetition and simplicity negatively affect the delivery of the themes. Francis’ growls, “You might think I’m vain, … But I’m ready for love,” repeatedly through the song, and it quickly becomes clear that this attempt at being blunt and direct comes off as a sort of woeful plea, and an unsuccessful one, at that. The other low point, the closing track “Death Horizon,” is instrumentally optimistic and uplifting track, and the lyrics give a sense of acceptance that are leading to hints of closure. Although as the track proceeds it becomes less blunt, it starts off painfully cheesy and unsubtle. Opening with, “This drink is tranquilizing,” a call to guitarist Joey Santiago going to rehab, an important and serious theme to explore (however it is done with much better success earlier in the project), and continuing with imagery of a relaxing vacation on Waikiki beach, it can’t help but come off as corny following the darker gothic tone of the rest of the album. While the contrast of this track could have been an interesting close to the album, it just falls short and seems almost out of place.
Overall, Beneath the Eyrie is a respectable entry into the Pixies’ discography that shows a promising future for the band — one that isn’t necessarily chasing after a past glory — but rather one where the band explores new avenues and sounds for a more matured tone to reflect their age, not only as a band but also as individual people and musicians. This album is not mind-blowing by any means; however, its gothic influences lends to a captivating and interesting listen. Whether or not Francis and company should hold tightly to their new sound is debatable — more, so they should use this to branch out and find a new sound in a new era while sticking true to their identity as The Pixies, something they successfully kept to on this latest release.
Recommended If You Like: Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Violent Femmes
Recommended Tracks: 1 (In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain), 6 (Silver Bullet), 11 (Daniel Boone)
Do Not Play: 2 (On Graveyard Hill), 9 (St. Nazaire)
Written by Matthew Stratton on 09/20/2019