A common question asked about rock bands is ‘‘how long can they keep this up?’’ This is a bit of a loaded question since it can refer to either touring or recording. How long can a band continue touring? How long can a band keep frequently releasing new material? How long can it stay fresh?
I am happy to say that the Pixies answer all three of these questions in the positive with their most recent album, “Beneath the Eyrie,” released Sept. 13 by BMG. This new album contains everything one associates with a good Pixies album: sneering guitars, spooky vocals, prominent bass lines and one of the most listenable alternative rock experiences ever.
The Pixies have long been among the vanguards of American alternative rock, inspiring such luminaries as Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, and appearing on the soundtracks of films such as “Fight Club.” The band received acclaim for such albums as “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle,” both considered classics and both considered the band’s two greatest works.
But with this new effort, I believe we must add another entry to the upper echelons of the band’s discography. “Beneath the Eyrie” is the first we’ve heard from the Pixies in years, and it’s everything a good Pixies album should be: choppy, meaty and just a little bit spooky.
The Pixies have indeed reached the point where their singing voices have altered, though not for the worse in this case. The Pixies have always flirted with disturbing imagery in their lyrics, and their full on embrace of it with the gothic-inspired songs on this album are only enhanced by their changing voices.
Several standout tracks include the songs “In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain,” the opening track which sees the band adding a few more metaphorical bells and whistles to their songs than usual; “Long Rider,” a spooky western song that lead songwriter Black Francis co-wrote with bassist Paz Lenchantin; and “On Graveyard Hill,” which was the song that ultimately hooked me into the album and convinced me that this album has more on its mind than just keeping up appearances.
Many artists who have been around as long as the Pixies either don’t match their earlier studio output in either quality or quantity or just give up entirely, deciding to subsist entirely on nostalgia. The Pixies have done neither. They still put out music, and though it may not be as frequent as fans like me would like, it’s still some good late-career music that many artists aren’t lucky enough to have.
Most of what I have to say about this album boils down it being what we’ve needed, frankly, from a band of this period: a good, solid album that may not do anything revolutionary, but does what the band knows how to do. There is a tendency for late-stage bands to overreach, I think — to forget what made them good in the first place. Of course, just doing the same things over and over again is not a recipe for outright success, but at some point fans and newcomers alike need to be reminded of why they liked the band in the first place. “Beneath the Eyrie” does exactly that and goes just beyond nostalgia, becoming an excellent work in its own right.