The Lowdown: As more people than ever now know, Pixies are the band who maybe didn’t invent alternative rock but put it all together: the noise with the pop, the soft with the loud, Black Francis’ deranged shrieks with Kim Deal’s sweetening harmonies. These dynamics almost single-handedly summoned Kurt Cobain, whose hometown of Aberdeen gets a shout-out in “Catfish Kate”, the first single from Beneath the Eyrie. This is the third album Pixies have released since their 2004 reunion after splitting up in 1991. This also means that Beneath the Eyrie may also be the third album their fans wish didn’t exist.
The Good: As of the 2010s, Pixies are often cited as one of the worst-case scenarios for a beloved band returning with new material. They’re definitely not the same gunslingers who brought the wall-to-wall dazzlers Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, and Bossanova into the world between just 1988 and 1990 or the only slightly lesser debut Come on Pilgrim and hard-charging Trompe Le Monde, the final studio album before their subsequent breakup. They’re probably not ever punching at that weight again. But as a band of alt-rock normies simply occupying the house they built, their second act has wielded two fantastic songs: “Magdalena 318”, which would’ve fit on Bossanova, and “Snakes”, which would’ve fit on the radio. Both are from 2014’s poorly received and uneven Indie Cindy, which was followed by 2016’s Head Carrier, their least interesting record by some distance. The third time’s the charm: Beneath the Eyrie is the best Pixies album in 28 years, a no-bullshit sugar-snort of riffs and melodies that neither dip much in quality nor come close to scaling past heights. But it justifies them.
Pretend they’re not one of your favorite bands and marvel at the noise-pop facility of the anthem “Graveyard Hill,” which doesn’t sound like the old days but does recall the effortless rush of, say, “Allison”. Paz Lenchantin buttresses Black Francis’ time-worn voice with less tension than Deal used to. She doesn’t play the angles; she stacks the bricks. “Catfish Kate” is power-pop without pretense; another band in another year would’ve earned their audience with it. Eyrie centerpiece “Silver Bullet” is a lovely, minor-key experiment in funereal folk that builds to one of Joey Santiago’s screeching climaxes taken over the top by Lenchantin’s floating harmonies.
The Bad: Beneath the Eyrie’s chief drawback is that it’s a bit like trying to sell a decent Foo Fighters album to a Nirvana worshiper. Who is it for, exactly? Probably not Pixies fans who used up their goodwill on Indie Cindy, but it’s not modern or catchy enough for any era of alt-radio. Amusing as they are, the spy-rock rave-up “St. Nazaire”, rockabilly shuffle “Bird of Prey”, and Brecht-Weill cabaret of “This Is My Fate” won’t tempt new fans or old ones; the best-case scenario for this album is that it adds a few better-than-expected tracks to an anthology nobody buys.
The Verdict: Where on the dial should you set your expectations? Well, between Trompe Le Monde and Indie Cindy came Frank Black, Black Francis’ solo moniker, under which he put out a dozen or so guitar-rock albums of shockingly consistent inconsequence. Pixies Mk. II songs tend to have a little more gravitas, but they slot much more neatly next to a good song like 2003’s “Massif Centrale”, which you have no reason to know. That’s what Beneath the Eyrie is: A collection of mostly good — a few forgettable and a clutch of very good — songs you have no reason to know. But the last couple albums were reminders not to take your faves for granted, and if they continue on this path, they might even win over some Pixies fans.
Essential Tracks: “Silver Bullet”, “Graveyard Hill”, and “Catfish Kate”