Sunday, May 26, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Reviews of current CDs: After long wait, Breeders' rock magic missing

Seattle Times staff critic

"Title TK," The Breeders, 4AD. At their peak, the Breeders made music for warm summer, open-highway drives. Such an assertion takes little detective work, just turn over the band's 1993 CD "Splash." There they are, twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal and bassist Josephine Wiggs, sitting high in a convertible with drummer Jim Macpherson at the wheel. All the ladies are decked out in '60s sundresses and shades, waving to nonexistent crowds like starlets.

Compared to music by growling contemporaries such as L7 and Babes in Toyland, the Breeders were light-hearted, good-time girls who lived by the motto, "Summer is ready when you are."

"Last Splash" reflected this fun spirit in songs like the bubbly "Divine Hammer" and "I Just Wanna Get Along." When the band played the 1994 Lollapalooza tour like a gigantic slumber party, it just felt right.

Then the Breeders disappeared, although far from quietly. Kelley was arrested for drug possession and sent to rehab; Kim, ex-bassist for the legendary Pixies, coped by forming the consciously lo-fi Amps and failing to wow on tours, showing up drunk much of the time. Wiggs left the band to work on her own projects, as did Macpherson.

It can be assumed, then, that whatever Breeders lovers are still out there have anxiously awaited the arrival of "Title TK," their first full-length release in nine years.

It also can be assumed that diehards are wise enough not to get their hopes up too high with this one. Once again, the lineup has changed; Mondo Lopez has replaced Wiggs on bass, Jose Mendeles takes Macpherson's seat on the drums and Rich Presley adds his guitar to the Deal sisters'. Kim and Kelley's girlish voices remain the best thing about the band, of course. They sing like teenage girls with smoke-coated throats, giving their music a tinge of innocence.

Coloring their voices with Steve Albini's "all wave" production, "Title TK" is outdated, careening about with no continuity in its flavor. All Breeders albums have mood swings, but this one has too many.

Even so, there's still enough of the old magic to make this the kind of CD you don't mind getting used to. Strangely enough, the most pleasant Breeders' throwback is the chugging "Full on Idle," a revamped tune Kim originally recorded with the Amps. Interludes like the stony haze "Sinister Foxx" and the dreamily romantic "Off You" bring back that old magic, particularly the latter with its sigh-worthy lines, "I am the autumn in the scarlet/I am the make-up on your eyes," sung by Kim with the sweetness and faith of a first love.

The rest of the CD follows along the lines of "London Song," a pleasant-enough rock tune that fails to hook your ears enough for constant replay. "Son of Three" and its beach-blanket rhythms has no underlying heat or pulse, and "The She's" dissonant melody overpowers its free-verse lyrics of sorrow and loss.

Regardless of how hard the Deal sisters try to re-create the magic that the Breeders enjoyed in 1993 and '94, they haven't solidified it with "Title TK." Perhaps it's just because they've been away for too long. If that's the case, girls, keep on trying. Summer's never gone for good.

Nancy Sinatra, "California Girl," Buena Vista Records. Deal sisters, take heed. Shape up or you might wind up here with a reissued recording of cover songs — with five new recordings!

Sinatra, forever known for her spare and sexy "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," channels sunny California for this odd dedication. Sinatra's forever a cool chick, but not hot enough to pull this one off. Hearing her takes on "California Dreamin' " and the requisite "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" heralds her as ready for induction into some psychic network.

Maybe it's her blush-wine-soaked version of "Hotel California," which deletes the spooky sex appeal of the original and, instead, turns it into something you'd hear in the lounge of the Love Boat. Great kitschy background music to some ironically themed cocktail party, but since both irony and cocktails are supposed to be out, we sadly can't think of any reason this CD should exist.


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