Photo by Chris Glass
Last Splash didn’t sound like anything else in 1993, and that still is true 20 years later. This box set marking the 20th anniversary of its release makes that clear, as well that every single song in the set is indispensable, because that’s how much of a classic landmark this album is.
The foundations of Last Splash were laid with Pod, released in 1990, ostensibly a collaboration between Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly, rounded out by bassist Josephine Wiggs from The Perfect Disaster, and Britt Walford of Slint. It’s roughly melodic quirky punk, musically and lyrically, and with Kim and Tanya, showing that they were more than what they’d been in their main bands. It’s a fine debut, but one that only hints of what was to come.
The Safari EP followed in 1992, with a slightly different lineup. Kim’s sister Kelley was now in the band, having learned on the fly how to play guitar, and drummer Jim Macpherson. Tanya left the band to form Belly. The overall sound is more melodic, but still retains the quirks. The Kim/Kelley co-write “Do You Love Me Now” is the standout track here. sweet, gentle, lovelorn, and starts a theme that would become more pronounced on Last Splash, of unrequited love and lust, or requited love now gone, wishing there was more. There is also a fine cover of The Who’s “So Sad About Us.”
Last Splash, released in 1993, exploded into an immediate hit, catapulted by “Cannonball.” That song, the finest of that year for me, takes on so many meanings. Unrequited love and lust, wanting someone badly, not sure if they want you, not sure of anything at all, and hoping that you get clarity at some point. Wishing you’re the “coo-coo“ and “cannonball,” the object of interest of the other person, that you’re not the “last splash.” “Divine Hammer” is a variation on that theme, wanting to find love. “Do You Love me Now,” when you loved someone once, are now apart, and want them back. Even more melodic, but not pop in the traditional sense, the album put up two more hits, the sweet, lovely “Divine Hammer” and the revved up “Saints” about good times at the fair, my second favorite track on the album. All the hits deserved every bit of airplay they got.
The Deal sisters’ harmonies perfectly complement each other. Kelley is the guitar god to end all guitar gods. Wiggs, with her famous intro to “Cannonball,” and she and MacPherson are fantastic throughout. Kim sounds on fire when she takes the lead vocal, and sizzles on guitar, and Kelley’s “I just Wanna Get Along” establishes her as a world-class songwriter and singer. Carrie Bradley’s violin on “Driving On 9” is also a standout moment, a change of pace, on a song that approaches country. Not for nothing did Kurt Cobain praise this band.
The live disk The Stockholm Syndrome, was recorded in Sweden in 1994, the band’s last European tour for that year. The first seven tracks were from a fan club CD, the other nine unreleased tracks from the same show. Sloppy in a good way, frenetic, ferocious, but always friendly and funny, it’s the band at their high energy best. Kim’s stage banter is cool, and fun, as is Wiggs doing the intro to Saints. The band attacks their instruments with gusto, and the crowd eats it up. An excellent recording in every way.
When I saw the band on their tour earlier this year in Philadelphia, they were tighter and more precise, without sacrificing any of their energy. Kim played acoustic for some of the songs, a good surprise, as it gave the songs new textures. Kelley roared and revved up her guitar like a Harley to complement Kim’s playing. Almost twin lead guitars. Jo Wiggs’ playing was skillful, as was Jim’s drumming. And as on the live disk, the band was friendly and funny, happy to be onstage, and playing for a sold out house. I’d never seen the band back in the day, so this was a treat for me, and one of the best concerts I ever saw.
The first five tracks from the demos/rarities disk are from a BBC radio session on July 24, 1993 and available for the first time. The rest are the demos of Last Splash, recorded in November 1992. The BBC session has the energy toned down a little, but the band is very focused, and the relative quiet of the music shows their chops. They could play rings around most bands, and that’s still true today.
“Grunggee,” which is the demo of "Cannonball," as rough and unfinished as it is, shows how inspired their ideas were musically, and lyrically. The other demos are much the same way. They’d caught lightning in a bottle, and knew it. These songs have solid foundations, and also show them at their most punk rock.
The next three EPs are some more fun. First is Cannonball, centered around that song, an alternate punky mix of “No Aloha,” a funny, out and proud cover of Aerosmith’s “Lord of the Thighs” sung by Josephine, and “900” which is kind of grungey. This is the playful side of the band. I smiled all through the EP.
The Divine Hammer EP has the single mix of the song, with the vocals and guitars emphasized, and while this version is interesting to listen to, it flattens out the magic of the original version. “Hovern’” is more punk rock. “I can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” is just Kim and Kelly playing a country/folk song that is reminiscent of Katryna and Narissa Nields, and “Do You Love Me Now JR?” where J Mascus duets with Kim. More smiling from me. How great that even the tracks surrounding the singles are just as good as what made the cut for Last Splash. If you want to hear more of the Nields, who have very Breeders-like harmonies but in a modern folk context, their current album The Full Catastrophe is the place to start.
The last EP, Head to Toe, is more punk rock, from covers of GBV’s “Shocker In Gloomtown,” Dinosaur Jr.’s “The Freed Pig” the growling title track, and an alternative version of Saints, rougher and somewhat disjointed compared to the version on Last Splash. I prefer the Last Splash version, as it has more propulsion. All three EP are great, and treats for whoever can’t get enough.
The 24-page booklet that accompanies the box set has a lot of cool photos, graphics and comments from the band about the making of Last Splash. The comments from the band, and people like Kim Gordon, and J Mascus are informative and instructive, especially when it comes to the famous video of “Cannonball.” Even though I’m not one for videos in general, I’ve always loved the clip for “Cannonball” for its terrific imagery. The great graphics extends to the box set cover and individual sleeve artwork by Vaughan Oliver, whose starting point was the original cover artwork for Last Splash. His upgrade is very pleasing to the eye, and perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the music.
So what’s the legacy of Last Splash? That there aren’t more bands around to day that have that spirit of wild abandon, the off-the-cuff feel of music at its most organic. So many bands, while great at what they do, aren’t really adventurous, in finding something new to work with, in the mad rush to reclaim the past, instead of pushing things forward. Make no mistake, I’m not suggesting Breeders clone bands, but what I’m saying is that the whole attitude of “everything’s been done, so there’s no way we can do anything original,” is cynical and defeatist, and is helping kill the music. The Breeders never had that attitude. While they knew what they were doing, they also knew they were making a statement about how rock could be played. But these days, I don’t really hear these kind of statements, or at least not often enough.
I’m not whining. I love today’s indie rock. But there’s got to be more to good music than good songs. More magic, more creativity. Naturally, you can’t predict the future, but the fact that Last Splash sounds like nothing else today gives me hope that in the future, people will shake off that attitude and make music that takes things in new directions. That there were so many young fans at the show I saw is one indication of that. Let them start bands, using the spirit of the album as their guide, and let’s make everything new again. Really new, not just an update.
The Breeders are touring all of this year. Take the hint and see them. Kim, who is cool. Kelley, who is as much a knitting goddess as well as a guitar god, Josephine, lord of the bass, and Jim, who keeps the beat, and you won’t be sorry you did so. You will have a blast and some fantastic memories.