Home Read Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: The Breeders | Last Splash

Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: The Breeders | Last Splash

This is alternative rock with its arm flung around Guided By Voices rather than anyone you'd have found on a Big Shiny Tunes compilation. These songs glow.

Last Splash by The Breeders was the first album I bought when I left home to attend college. In fact, I believe it came out a week before my first day of school, but two weeks after I’d moved to my perpetually unfurnished, unheated apartment — across the street from a strip club — in the bustling metropolis of Belleville, Ont.

Thing is, I’m from a much smaller town than Belleville. This was the first time I’d ever had to use public transit, or had public transit to use. My trusty knock-off Walkman went everywhere with me. Cassette copies of this album, Bubble & Scrape by Sebadoh and Here Come The Warm Jets by Eno were my go-jams, until Beck put out Mellow Gold a few months later. But where I really connected with Last Splash was going back and forth to Kingston on the non-express “milk run” Greyhound along Hwy. 2 to visit my brother (and maybe a girl).

The album and the trip are about the same length, so they sync up in my mind like a soundtrack. Cannonball reminds me of the bus depot in Belleville. No Aloha brings images of passing through the racetrack town of Shannonville. Do You Love Me Now? plays and suddenly we’re stopped for a passenger in Deseronto. Divine Hammer evokes memories of passing under the railway overpasses of Napanee. Drivin’ On 9 takes me speeding through Odessa before Roi reminds me of arriving at last (splash) in the Limestone City.

Obviously, I love this record and I finally — after all these years — decided to get a vinyl copy. My old college-boy CD was rendered unplayable years ago, so when my girlfriend asked if we had it, I didn’t hesitate to order one. There are a variety of pressings you can get — OGs are stupid expensive, and the anniversary ones are pretty dear as well. I opted for a standard, black vinyl remaster. They’re around $30.

Last Splash was a statement record for former Pixies bass player Kim Deal. Since she was the principal songwriter, vocalist and guitarist of The Breeders, this album was something like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Deal, like Harrison, rose to prominence in a band where her songs took a back seat to those of bandmate Black Francis (Frank Black). But when given a shot to roll out her own stuff, she made it clear her songwriting was every bit as good and consistent as her former band.

In fact, Last Splash out-charted every Pixies album, as well as Black’s debut solo album, which also came out in 1994. It outsold them all as well, with the exception of Doolittle. Let’s go through it.

The album opens with New Year, which has all the hallmarks of Breeders music jammed into a song which is just a hair shy of two minutes. There are big slow wash chords, Deal’s affecting and attractive vocal phrasing — just the timbre of her voice packs a carton of resonance for me personally. The rhythm section of bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson is also very effective. Wiggs finds catchy basslines but is never too busy. Her tone fits perfectly in the mix of the two-guitar band. Macpherson is like an R&B drummer — he never overplays his parts, but can still throw in fills which become just as much a part of the song as the lyrics.

Deal and her sister Kelley handle the guitars. They both have a knack for catchy, likeable refrains and licks but they also can buzz along chunky and perfectly non-homogenized rhythm guitar. Part of the charm is that Kelly was a total novice when this record was made, and yet takes more than her share of what’s best described as the “lead” guitar parts.

The opener slides into the album’s big hit single Cannonball, whose lyric gave the record its name. I mentioned the basslines and the guitar licks, the danceable rock beat and Kim Deal’s signature voice make this song so incredible and immediately appealing. Just hearing it makes you feel cooler.

One aspect of Deal’s voice that I love is the breathiness of it. There are a few songs on Last Splash where this is particularly evident — the first of those is Invisible Man, which comes as the third 5/5 song in a row to start the record. The way she delivers the line “And a sweet caress” gets me where I live. Still. Every time.

No Aloha is another perfect song. That’s four now. This one really demonstrates the band’s knack (likely Deal’s knack) for lyrics.

“No bye, no alohaGone with a rock promoterA rock promoterI know, I sawAnd now may dieO the treatsSaw it on the wallMotherhood means mental freeze(Freezeheads)

Roi is a bit of filler, really. It’s cool, but it’s more affecting a feeling than communicating one. Discordant, with heavily processed vocals and a non-traditional song structure.

This sets the stage beautifully for the sexy, vulnerable and cool Do You Love Me Now? This song is performed ideally. It’s not perfect. You don’t want it to be perfect, you want it to be just right. I can’t imagine it being this affecting twice in a row. Everything about the feel just came together perfectly.

The instrumental Flipside wraps up the first side. They really showcase their Dayton sound here.

Side 2 starts with Kelley Deal’s lead vocal track — I Just Wanna Get Along. One of two songs the sisters co-wrote on the album, the other being Do You Love Me Now? This one’s got all the attitude of Flipside, but with words to match — words with a wheelin’ melody.

Mad Lucas is in a similar vein to Roi, in that it is mostly sonically designed to be evocative. A slow, heavily-processed ballad which sounds forcibly or physically restrained. Like a drugged animal or a sedated patient. The feeling evoked here is one of ire, warning and hardened wisdom.

“Arise, wash your face
From cinder and soot
You’re a nuisance
And I don’t like dirt.”

Just as Do You Love Me Now? follows Roi, the album’s other catchy single Divine Hammer follows Mad Lucas. This one always makes me smile. The video is great, too. Ah, the ’90s.

SOS is another instrumental palate-cleanser. Quite a rockin’ one. Then it’s Hag, which is a bit like combining No Aloha and I Just Wanna Get Along — a mid-tempo number with loads of attitude, except with a soaring chorus. And I mean soaring. Give me chills, this one.

“All night, all night, all night
Under the stars
Under their light
All over the girl
Only looks bright.”

Saints is a real summer song, Breeders style. The sights and sounds of a summer carnival: “Summer is ready when you are.” This was also released as a single.

Before the album wraps with a reprise of Roi, we get another unbelievable Deal vocal delivery on the countrified ballad Drivin’ On 9. The song is a cover, originally done by the Boston indie band Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, co-written by guitarist/vocalist Dom Leone, who died of cancer in 1989. ERQ violin player and vocalist Carrie Bradley plays on the song.

This is alternative rock with its arm flung around Guided By Voices rather than anyone you’d have found on a Big Shiny Tunes compilation. These songs glow. They have come for light. It’s true. 4/5

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.