CD review: The Pixies

You gotta love The Pixies. No other band achieved a status quite as cult or as cool as Black Francis and his cohorts did in their late 1980s/early 90s heyday. But five albums in as many years and constant touring did for their enthusiasm: when they folded in early ’93, it seemed like they were lost to us.

Years later, it became apparent they had somehow achieved more after they broke up than when they were together. Their influence was massive, not least on Nirvana, who admitted to having based their breakthrough hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit, on their quiet/loud dynamic.

There are bands who should never reform, and The Pixies seemed like one of them. But a large enough offer put paid to their ambivalence. When they returned to the live circuit in 2004, they were welcomed as returning heroes. All that remained was for them to record another album. And that’s where Black Francis’s legendary contrariness kicked in. While he was happy enough to get back in the studio, he has refused to put out another album, preferring instead to release a series of four-song EPs.

EP2 is the second of three, the first having been released in November to mixed reviews. ‘Blue-eyed Hexe’, the lead single, is one of the strongest songs of their career, and has been warmly received. It sounds like AC/DC with an indie rock make-over, albeit with lyrics that appear to describe its narrator performing surgery on a medieval witch.

‘Snakes’ lacks the typical Black Francis snarl, but its description of an impending infestation of serpents is typically weird. ‘Greens and Blues’ is an engaging acoustic driven number, while ‘Magdalena’ is the kind of swooning lovesong Black Francis has mastered!.

Pixies obsessives may bemoan the loss of original bassist Kim Deal from the line-up, but it is the pairing of Black Francis’s songwriting and Santiago’s wildly inventive guitar wizardry that defines the sound. There is also something endearing about them side-stepping the risk of adding another album to The Pixies’ impeccable canon.

Then again, when attention deficit is the default mode of listeners the world over, maybe EPs are the future.

Star Rating: 4/5

Design: Eileen Gray

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin

Born in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford in 1878, Eileen Gray became one of the most celebrated designers of the 20th century. The fact that she lived in France for most of her adult life meant she was largely unappreciated here. It is also true to say that Ireland’s had an uneasy relationship with architecture and design: if we have only warmed to the visual arts in recent decades, these are disciplines that even now induce mild alarm in many.

This epic exhibition of Gray’s work as a designer, architect and painter — adapted from an exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris — demonstrates that her primary talent lay in a carefully cultivated simplicity. Her work is functional as well as beautiful. You don’t need to know anything about design to appreciate her furniture: her screens stop you in your tracks, her tubular chairs invite you to sit her rugs would be welcome in any living-room.

The discipline Gray acquired in mastering lacquer-work — a labour-intensive operation that requires multiple coats of varnish — obviously carried over into the rest of her work. Her designs are impeccable, and found their natural expression in E-1027, the house in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin she designed with her lover, Jean Badovici. The French regard Gray’s some-time home as a national treasure: it has been restored as a location for a feature film about the designer, starring Orla Brady as Gray and singer Alanis Morrissette as her lover, Marisa Damia.

Other exhibitions have taken Gray as their subject — the Collins Museum has a permanent installation of her work — but this is the one that has caught the popular imagination.

It includes photographs of Gray’s family and home in Enniscorthy, as well as architectural designs for several projects that were never realised. Gray was prodigious, and continued working until her death, aged 98, in 1976.

* Thankfully, the exhibition has now been extended to Jan 26.

Star Rating: 4/5

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