In the first windy days of the fall of 1993, I had an idea.
The idea was fairly self-evident, but it had never struck me as worthwhile until then --- I was going to bring my Walkman to school. You see, I lived in Midtown Manhattan and spent about an hour and a half each day traveling by bus to and from the far-northwest Bronx for day after day of humiliation, soggy London Broil and Venn diagrams in middle school. I needed some entertainment.
Once I started bringing my Walkman on the bus, I quickly settled on a station. Gone were the days when I was satisfied listening to the same oldies station my parents listened to in the car - I listened to Z100, the top-40 station. At the time, the radio was dominated by synth-pop, which was alright with me. Listening to "All That She Wants" or "Rhythm is a Dancer" was far cooler than listening to "Sloop John B." for the fiftieth time. Still, aside from feeling cool, I didn't really connect with it.
Then, seemingly out of another dimension, a wildly different song came on. First of all, it featured real instruments. For perhaps the first time, I was captivated by a driving bassline, feedback and a distorted guitar. Then the vocals started. It wasn't the female crooning of Madonna's "Say Goodbye," which was also popular at the time. It was quasi-singing, almost as if the lead singer was on a pay phone, trying to sing without drawing attention. Then, there was the matter of the lyrics. "The bong in this reggae song?"
What the hell is a bong?
This doesn't sound like reggae.
The song was "Cannonball" and the band was the Breeders, whom I largely credit for preventing me from ever purchasing an Ace of Base album. In fact, as I discovered years later, the Breeders' seminal album, Last Splash, is a largely overlooked pop/punk/grunge classic.
Overlooked in favor of grunge bands such as Nirvana and Alice in Chains, the Breeders' sound is alternately hard and soft, loud and quiet, ethereal and in-your-face. The entire album is a series of juxtapositions, one after the other. Sometimes, the whole band rocks out, like in "Cannonball." Sometimes, it's just guitar and vocals. Sometimes, it's instrumental. Sometimes, the beat is slow, but the guitars are still driving at full speed, as if half the band didn't get the memo.
Still, what makes Last Splash so unique is lead singer and guitarist Kim Deal, formerly of the Pixies. Her voice, which can be described as equal parts child full of wonder and hardened cynic, floats across the album and is able to convey a wide variety of attitudes, from sorority/valley girl dismissiveness in "I Just Wanna Get Along" and "Hag," to dirty-little-secret horniness in "Divine Hammer" and deluded hopefulness in "Do You Love Me Now?" The lyrics, which are mostly not very easy to understand immediately, are occasionally brilliant, albiet cryptic.
In general, Last Splash is like nodding in and out of sleep in a Seattle convenience store parking lot, circa 1993. One moment, you're rocking with distorted guitars and angry mumbled lyrics, and in the next, you're in some sort of distant and spacey guitar fantasy, narrated by an adult in a 9-year-old's body. After a nine-year absence, The Breeders have re-formed with some new members and released Title TK, but Last Splash, in all its dreamlike glory, will always hold a special place in my CD changer.