Listen to this track by dual-Deal led, once The Pixies/Throwing Muses offshoot band, The Breeders. It’s their trademark “modern rock” hit “Cannonball” as taken from their 1993 Last Splash album.
The band emerged when two secondary writers from the aforementioned parent bands – Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly, respectively – shared tour dates by the end of the 1980s when both of those bands appeared together. This side project gave the two writers a chance to frame their songwriting free from the competition with the primary writers in their bands.
Donnelly’s involvement would be temporary, cutting one record, Pod in 1990, and the Safari EP the following year. Then she bowed out to form yet another group, Belly. Kim Deal took on her twin sister Kelley to replace Donnelly. The two had played music together from an early age, even before Kim joined the Pixies. As such, it would be a reunion of sorts. It would be this line up change which turned out the Breeders’ most popular album in Last Splash, scoring certified platinum sales the year after it was released.
This sterling result was perhaps helped along by the band serving as an open act for Nirvana in 1992. But, whatever the reasons beyond the high quality of the record itself, this song would be an enduring tune for the decade, well-preserved when you hear it on the radio today, of course. And why’s that?
Much like the garage rock scenes of the 1960s, and pub rock and punk tock movements in the 1970s, rock bands in the late ’80s and early ’90s were trying to find the thread back to the basics of what makes up rock music what it is to begin with. The whole “grunge” thing was certainly one high profile strain of that. But, another thing was happening was that bands were giving up on the idea that everything had to sound modern, or far away from what had come before in a year zero sort of way. Elements of other eras were not looked to be something from which to move further away, necessarily. Melodies, chords, and the feel of a song could draw from any source, and certainly any era, as long as it was direct.
This is what I hear in this song, which pulls together what Nigel Tufnel might describe as “simple lines intertwining”. This whole song is based on two chords, switching back and forth between them. But that’s one of its strengths. This doesn’t even touch on how unafraid this song is of silence, of sonic gaps. These gaps are used to the song’s advantage. The whole thing builds tension, subverts expectations, and brings the sexy.
That’s what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to do.
Overall, the strength of this tune is that it invites a listener right into it; here’s the riff on the bass, now on the guitar, now on two guitars, now loud, now quiet, now with a gap between one section of the song and another to make you wait for the next combination. Look how two chords can kick ass, and get you moving and wanting to break stuff, even if you can see the moving parts – maybe even especially so.
And the melody; there’s something psychedelic about it to my ears, something very 1966 in the way the melody works with the chords. Even if we get that crunchy guitar sound which is decidedly more modern, that melody sounds older. This is helped along by a sort of mumbled beat poet feel to the lyrics: spitting in a wishing well, blown to hell .. CRASH, I’m the last splash…
Click, click, click.
But, with all of its idiosyncrasies, it was a big hit when it came out, and would be featured in movie soundtracks for years afterwards. In celebrating the simple elements of rock music, The Breeders had gone and made a hit that touched on eras old and new, pulling them together into something that turns out to be pretty timeless.
Releasing albums intermittently since the early ’90s, The Breeders are still led by the Deal twins, and are a going concern today. Catch up with their movements at breedersdigest.net.
2 thoughts on “The Breeders Play “Cannonball””
Great article on this song. I read somewhere that the opening bass line was inadvertently played one half step lower by Josephine and was thankfully left in the song. This small, unintended ‘mistake’ added yet another dimension to this timeless classic.
Never have I come across a songwriter who could make so much out of so ‘little” as Kim Deal. Though the songs are sparse one can hear slight subtle nuances weaved throughout.
Kim Deal will never be out of style.