“The 90s were so cool,” said someone who wasn’t even a twinkle in somebody’s eye when flannel shirts were the uniform of the day and Oasis were known as Rain. With shows like Derry Girls and Everything Sucks currently mining the period for nostalgic kicks, it appears that the ’90s are certainly very cool at the moment (although they’ve been given a fairly heavy airbrushing in the case of Everything Sucks – Derry Girls on the other hand, totally nails it.)
The return of The Breeders is enough to get the hearts fluttering of those who remember the sudden influx of Seattle bands, Sub Pop and the vibrancy of the alternative music scene in the early ’90s. It’s particularly significant that the line up of the current incarnation of The Breeders is the one that graced 1993’s gem Last Splash, with bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPherson lining up with the sisters Deal. One of the main questions surrounding All Nerve is whether it’ll serve as a gateway to nostalgia or whether this is an album that stands on its own merits. Modern life might well be rubbish, but every so often, something comes along that makes it all worthwhile, and reminds us that now has its cool moments too.
All Nerve is unmistakably The Breeders, Kim and Kelley Deal’s vocals appear to have made it through the last 25 years unscathed and are just as wonderful now as they were back then. The pair of them can conjure up emotional damage, unhinged violence, and playful pop, often within the space of a single song. Nor has the band forgotten the power of the riff. The album opens with two songs that not only instantly call back to 1993 but also prove that the band has lost none of its ability to write darkened nuggets of scuzzy pop.
Nervous Mary starts slow, but soon switches through the gears and into a insistent driven chug. Those layered Deal vocals make their first appearance and they still sound as vital and exciting as always. Wait In The Car doesn’t bother with a slow start, simply bursting into life after a shouted “Good Morning!” Once again those basic but affective riffs provide the perfect backdrop for the Deal’s pop magic to unfurl. Their cover of Amon Düül II’s Archangel Thunderbird keeps the latter half of the album on its toes, but also showcases the band’s love of a fantastic riff and hook. There’s no doubt that Cannonball owes a little to the likes of Amon Düül II.
This being The Breeders, All Nerve is not just about straight ahead riffing, there’s a raft of emotion cutting across the whole album. The title track shifts between slow emotional outpouring and something a little more savage. “I wanna see you, especially you, you don’t know how much I miss you” croons Deal, summing up the feelings of the band’s fans, but also laying bare her emotions. And then the song opens up dramatically, and the mood changes as the lines “I won’t stop, I will run you down” suggest dark intentions underpinning the desire and that the nerves of band are still raw and exposed.
Metagoth doesn’t bother with alternating between moods, it settles into a sparse and icy headspace quickly as it is driven by Wiggs’ propulsive bass and menacing vocal whilst jagged guitar interjections give the song a post-punk metallic sheen that, by the song’s close, are positively terrifying. This slightly unnerving feel is returned to on the murder ballad Walking With The Killer, a song that tells the story of a victim walking towards their doom. There’s a relaxed acceptance to Deal’s vocals (that have a kind of nursery rhyme quality to them) that sits at odds to the occasionally frenetic guitar work, it’s a juxtaposition that only adds to the genuine sense of unease and violence of the song.
The whole album is awash with reminders of not just how good The Breeders were, but how good The Breeders still are. It’s easy to find yourself lost in the woozy pop-fuzz of Howl At The Summit, cower under the weight of the bass and twitchy energy of Skinhead#2 or simply crack a smile at having “Good Morning” shouted at you. The ’90s were cool, but that was then. This is now, and The Breeders are sounding just as vital now (and cool, whatever that might mean) as they did when Last Splash made a splash.