The Breeders’ Last Splash rarely makes those “Greatest Albums of All Time” lists, and barely makes the cut on “Best of the ’90s” countdowns. Neither of those things are unforgivable oversights, either; to most, the album is probably a footnote, at best, a paragraph in revisionist retellings of the great Alt-Rock era, which usually cast Kim Deal and Co. as Nirvana-ites who rode Kurt Cobain’s coattails — when in fact, Cobain admitted “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was basically his attempt to “rip off” Deal’s other band, Pixies — and always seem to end with an obligatory “bong in this reggae song” riff.
And as such, it’s an odd candidate for a deluxe, 20th-anniversary treatment … so much so that, when I spoke to Deal about the milestone, she said she was completely unaware that the album was turning 20 until her sister Kelley brought it up. Yet, 4AD is gearing up to release Last Splash XX, — it was supposed to hit stores on Tuesday, but due to a manufacturing error, it’ll now come out on May 14 — a glossy grab-bag that collects everything from that period in the Breeders’ career. You’ll get the original album, four EPs (Safari and Head To Toe, plus the singles “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer,”) a full live album and a disc that features a BBC session and demos.
Chances are, if you’re still reading this, you’re going to buy it (even if you already got “Cro-Aloha” on the “Cannonball” maxi single). The other 99.99 percent of the world probably won’t, which is sort of fitting, if you think about it — after all, despite selling 1 million copies and spawning one of the decade’s most iconic singles, Last Splash never really crossed over, and, in 20 years, its legacy has largely remained unchanged; it was initially regarded as “effervescent,” “blistering” and “incoherent,” and that still seems about right.
So why have I just spent more than 300 words writing about it? Because there is no album more important to me than Last Splash. It was the third CD I ever bought, after 4 Non Blondes’ Bigger, Better, Faster, More! and Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way, and while those two discs have since been lost to the sands of time, Last Splash has stayed with me, through 10 jobs, six moves, four cars and several adult relationships. It doesn’t just take up space, either — I still listen to it on the regular, know every note by heart — though its status as the longest-surviving CD in my collection isn’t why I hold it in such high esteem. Last Splash changed my life.
It opened my eyes to a world that was foreign to a kid in landlocked Longwood, Florida. It sounded unlike anything I had heard at the time, a mysterious mix of murky songs that hemorrhaged and slunk, yet, thanks to Deal’s sweet, sanguine voice, also possessed a genuine beauty. It taught me that, often times, the single isn’t the best song on the album (“Cannonball” is great, but it’s no “Divine Hammer” or “Saints,”) and sadly, most people would never realize that fact. Last Splash introduced me to a galaxy of related bands — Lush, Pixies, Guided By Voices, Belly, Throwing Muses, Helium — and the stunning, austere artwork of Vaughan Oliver. I learned that a record label was more than just a logo, that it could also be a sign of quality and integrity, and that sometimes it pays to read liner notes because musicians actually have something to say. It was the first album I fell in love with, obsessed over, attempted to play on a crappy Archer electric guitar. It was my little secret; let the lunkheads have Nirvana, I thought. And because of that, I came to know what it was like to be a fan, to get defensive when idiots dismissed my favorite band as “one-hit wonders,” and angry when follow-up singles failed to prove otherwise.
Last Splash saved me from a life spent listening to pabulum pop and rote rock; from a life wasted. It was my first foray into “alternative” music, a voyage I continue on to this day, admittedly with diminishing results (and less flannel). Had I not heard it, I would most definitely be a different person today. I’d like to think it’s part of the reason I got the heck out of Florida, moved to New York City, and found a job writing about rock music. And I know for sure that the way the Breeders handled its success — basically treating it as a nuisance, knowing it was fleeting at best — shaped the way I view the world, for better or worse.
There was magic to that album, something that sprung as much from the music as it did my age, my willingness to believe. Last Splash came to me at precisely the right time in my life, and that’s why I’m certain I’ll never hear another album like it; I will never be 14 again, will never experience something as life-altering as the surging guitars-and-bass of “I Just Wanna Get Along” or as haunting as the ghostly vocals of “No Aloha.” Sure, that makes me sad, but I suppose that’s the way things go. Listening to the 20th-anniversary reissue makes me nostalgic for a time when things were simpler, brings back memories of people and places long gone, which, I suppose is the point. It does not, however, change my opinion of Last Splash in any way; it is not the best album I own, or even really my favorite, but it is unquestionably still the most important. To me, and, I suspect, a whole lot of other people, too. Simply put, it’s the bong in my reggae song.
Sorry, I had to.