Early efforts by The Breeders, such as ‘Safari’, often felt like eating a packet of Ready Salted crisps.
They were appetising, highly satisfactory and tasted even better in a bar. There was something missing, though.
Tracks like ‘Safari’ were missing a spark of energy that would really make them stand out from all of the other independent artists in the early 1990s.
The Breeders needed to be more like Salt and Vinegar crisps.
It may seem odd making an analogy between crisps and The Breeders, but it perfectly explains the jump that Kim Deal’s group made when they released ‘Cannonball’.
The dynamics of ‘Cannonball’ were not a radical departure from their début album ‘Pod’, but it was the small and subtle changes that made all the difference.
‘Cannonball’ had a tighter and more refined sound, but the key behind its success was the band’s quiet appreciation of acceleration in music.
The teasing bass-riffs in the verses were low-key but, alongside Deal’s lustrous vocals, this made the song immediately intriguing and appealing.
‘Cannonball’ is one of those songs where you have the feeling that it’s gradually building itself up to a memorable crescendo, but you aren’t sure when or how.
When that moment comes, during the chorus, it’s a fantastically improvised moment of anger and fury that’s unexpectedly pounced upon you.
Its impact is so great, it becomes one of the most refreshing and exhilarating moments heard in contemporary rock music.
And, because the two tempos used in ‘Cannonball’ are at two such great extremes, the chorus’ sudden whirlwind of energy is even more surprising.
This format, of rotating two contrasting key changes, has since been replicated many times – most notably by Salad’s ‘Motorbike To Heaven’ and ‘Ready To Go’ by Republica – but it has never been bettered.
This is largely down to how technically accomplished ‘Cannonball’ is. It is carefully and cyclically structured, but the faultless spontaneity and creativity is uncompromised.
Deal’s ability to seamlessly interlink the rough and the smooth – and for them to perfectly complement each other – is the defining reason why the song still remains so indelible.
No other song has managed to be so gloriously messy, while sounding sickeningly slick.
‘Cannonball’ ends up feeling like eating a packet of Salt and Vinegar crisps. It packs a real punch, is wholesome and leaves you wanting more.
The brilliance of the song means that it never takes its foot off the pedal; it simply does everything right.
With such delirious hooks, you have to wonder what Deal needed to do in order to play a more prominent role in the Pixies.
You could do far worse than digging out a book on conspiracy theories.
This review was self-published in September 2010.
Weller, H. (ed) (1997) The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles. 11th edition. London: Guinness Publishing.