All Nerve – 25 Years In Love with The Breeders

Even back then,  a quarter of a century ago, when my taste in music was barely starting to form and everything seemed exciting and new, I knew ‘Cannonball’ was something extraordinary. With its’ stop-start rhythms, distorted vocals and mysterious sounds, it was an alien form of the indie-rock music I was falling in love with.  It was the single of the year in the NME, (they also named Bjork’s Debut album of the year that year,) both choices fully endorsable even now.

Despite their impact on my nascent musical tastes, I thought little of The Breeders over the next decade or so. This was only because they weren’t much around, during these years when music was pretty much my whole life, focused on, at various times, other musical projects (and rehab). Then, in 2002, they re-appeared with an album, Title TK, and a song even stranger and more beautiful than Cannonball, ‘Off You’. Off You is a slight fragile thing, soft and beautiful and barely there, one of those rare songs that I love more every time I hear it, even 15 years on.

They were back for a year or two, played some live dates, but ultimately, once again, The Breeders decided to capitalise on writing one of the greatest songs of all time by disappearing. I thought, maybe this is the way it’s going to be. They’ll pop up once every decade or so, drop an excellent album, a truly wonderful song, but otherwise hardly be part of my life.

So, I was rather surprised, come 2009, when The Breeders blew up my whole world. Admittedly, it wasn’t entirely down to them, but they happened to be the trigger to a life-changing event. They were announced to curate an All Tomorrow’s Parties festival at a holiday camp in Somerset. 6 weeks prior, two close friends, music lovers both, were due to get married. Festival tickets were purchased as a wedding present and I was to share a chalet with the couple and a friend of theirs I had never met, although we had come to close to meeting a number of times.

My wife and I, the first day we met

I was slightly worried, as the the festival approached. What if this friend and I didn’t get on? It could have made for an awkward few days, sharing a room. This turned to out not to be an issue, to say the least. We had both been listening to Cannonball and Last Splash in our teenage bedrooms 15 years earlier, one of a million tiny connections we would prove to have. Before the weekend was over we were in love, within a couple of years we would be married.

Because of how we met, our memories of The Breeders will always be intertwined with our memories of falling in love. It was one of those festivals where the bands stay in the holiday camp, close by to the fans, so as well as playing their show, they would appear on stage with other acts on the bill, and in the daytimes we would be walking hand in hand round the festival, smiling at one Deal sister or the other as they passed us by.


After this, The Breeders went quiet once again. They toured once, and we saw them play in London, a 20 year anniversary show for their classic ‘Last Splash’ album, a night of pure nostalgia, but not more. The years passed by, My wife and I moved cities, settled down, had kids, and The Breeders stayed silent. There was no sign of new music and they seemed destined to remain a band with deep connections to our past, but no part to play in our future.

When a new Breeders album did arrive in 2018, unexpectedly, my hopes were not that high. The track record of bands releasing new material after a ten year hiatus are not so great, after all. I should have known better of The Breeders though. After all, it wasn’t the first time they had been away so long only to return triumphantly. And the album, ‘All Nerve’ was indeed a triumph. It may not have had an individual song quite as life-changing as ‘Cannonball’ or ‘Off You’, but almost every song is fantastic, from the taut exciting ‘Nervous Mary’, to the subtle darkness of ‘Walking With a Killer’. As always The Breeders manage to sound unlike any other band around, including themselves, and All Nerve has a fair claim to be the best album of their history, and the best album released by anybody in 2018.

So, when The Breeders turned up in my new home city to play those wonderful songs, new and old, it seemed rude for my wife and I not to be there, so there we were. Our first gig together after the birth of our second child, holding hands, singing along, perhaps shedding a tear or two. And as we bellowed along to ‘Divine Hammer’ and all of our other favourites, the joy we felt was not just the joy of live music,  not just the joy of a thousand voices in unison, it was the joy of 25 years of our lives flashing through our mind. There we were, in our teenage bedrooms, listening to Last Splash, trying to figure out life. There we were at All Tomorrow’s Parties, experiencing the first rushes of new love. There we were, a family around the kitchen table, tiny and not so tiny heads bopping along as ‘Nervous Mary’ played on the radio.

Very few bands have been a part of my life since I was 13 years old, and ever fewer have soundtracked such an important part of my life. I don’t know what will happen next with The Breeders, they may disappear again for 5 or 10 or 25 years, but whenever they return, I no longer have any doubt that it will be with something wonderful. Even if we never hear from them again, their place in my heart is forever assured.

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