With The Breeders set to release a 20th Anniversary reissue of Last Splash next month, followed by a tour featuring that album’s lineup, little attention has been paid to their debut album, Pod-despite many fans considering it the band’s best.
Originally intended as a side project for The Pixies’ Kim Deal and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly, The Breeders released Pod in 1990, to much critical acclaim. Rounding out the lineup was Josephine Wiggs on bass and Slint’s Britt Walford (billed as Shannon Doughton) on drums. While Deal and Donelly are both credited as the album’s guitarists and vocalists, it is Deal who provides lead vocals, with Donelly supporting her with rich harmonies as well as an occasional background vocal.
Pod starts out with the slow-moving “Glorious.” Despite its triumphant title, the song sets a tone for the early portion of the album, successfully combining a subtle darkness and sensuality accented by Wiggs’ subdued bass line. The shimmering, brooding guitar effects add a piercing intensity otherwise not found in this quiet song.
Next comes “Doe.” While sharing the previous track’s tone, this fellatio-focused tune (“It’s so salty, Timmy”) appropriately features see-sawing sequences of slower and faster tempos, with Donelly closing out the song with breathy background sighs.
Track three is a riveting, dare I say, better version of the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” Whereas the original version plods along, with each verse sloppily blending into the next, The Breeders successfully make each stanza a carefully-crafted highlight. The momentum slowly builds, leading up to the machine gun-like refrain of “Mother Superior jumped the gun” before gently closing with the titled chorus, sung by Donelly.
“Oh” sees the band slowing down once again and could be the opening track’s sister. Using that vernacular, “Hellbound” would be the distant cousin, as it is easily the closest the band comes to “rocking out.” This fast-paced romp also marks an end to the darker sounds alluded to earlier, but does so without disrupting the overall cohesiveness of the record.
“When I Was a Painter” has a playful feel to it and while not sounding like the Pixies, contains a quiet-loud-quiet exchange, not unlike Deal’s other band. This is followed by “Fortunately Gone,” a catchy pop tune that has ultra-sweet harmonies that could melt a glacier. This short song is also a prime reason the repeat button was invented.
Inevitably when a member of a well-known band forms a side project, their new output will be compared to their old. If “When I Was A Painter” contains a common format utilized by the Pixies, “Iris” probably comes the closest to sounding like that band-however, not in an annoying fashion.
“Opened” is another uptempo, bass-driven number, drenched with guitar and sprinkled with sparse spoken word verses by Deal.
Not surprisingly “Only In 3’s” is the sole song co-written by Donelly, as it has her Throwing Muses / Belly touch all over it. But make no mistake: while Deal is credited with writing most of Pod‘s material, one can easily hear hints of Donelly’s influence throughout the album. With that in mind, “Lime” sounds a lot like a Throwing Muses ditty, despite being written by Deal.
“Metal Man” closes out Pod and holds the distinction of being the weakest song on the album. Co-written by Deal and Wiggs, it is the sprinkles on top, rather than the cherry. In other words, it adds little flavor to what is otherwise a tasty debut from The Breeders.
When the album came out, Karen Schoemer of the New York Times wrote, “The angular melodies, shattered tempos and screeching dynamics recall elements of each of the women’s full-time bands, but Pod has a smart, innovative edge all its own.”
The Breeders followed up Pod with the Safari EP in 1992. It was their last release to feature Donelly and first to contain Kim’s twin sister, Kelley.
Though Last Splash received greater exposure via alternative radio, MTV and had the benefit of Kim’s full-time focus after the breakup of the Pixies, Pod was a groundbreaking release. One needs no further proof than to consider recording engineer Steve Albini’s assertion that it is the album he felt he got both the best sound for a band as well as the best performance.