The success of “Cannonball” must have weighed heavily on the Breeders. In the eight years since that song propelled them to multiplatinum stardom, leader Kim Deal has engaged in the usual evasions of someone who just isn’t sure she can repeat success: personnel changes, multiple producers, false starts. When finally forced to put up or shut up, the resulting album, “Title TK” (4AD/Elektra) — newspaper publishing shorthand for “title to come” — sounds like it was recorded over eight days as opposed to years; it’s a slapdash effort too halfhearted to meet the band’s feckless ambitions. Nevertheless, at the El Rey, without Steve Albini’s warts-and-all production (he’s something of a cruel portraitist, emphasizing the Breeders’ worst features), the band managed to regain some of the off-kilter verve that once made it so appealing.
Kim Deal’s nicotine-stained voice still occupies the niche between adolescent ennui and adult worldliness; when twin sister Kelley (whose main function onstage appears to be adding to a thick cloud of cigarette smoke) joins in, they still make for appealing sweet/tart harmonies.
But the zesty fizz of “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer” only serves to emphasize how undistinguished the new songs sound. With the exception of the loopy anthem “Huffer” and a quiescent “Forced to Drive,” the “Title TK” tunes feel tossed off and unfinished, not worthy of even the minimal effort the band put into performing them.
Opening act Imperial Teen is built from some of the same raw material as the Breeders, but their third album “On” (Merge) is a vastly more enjoyable affair. Mixing the chanted refrains and the call-and-response choruses of bubblegum pop, driving alt-rock guitars and a willful amateurism (switching instruments throughout the set), the San Francisco quartet come off as winning goofballs, their songs addressing gender and sexuality with wit and charm.
(The Breeders and Imperial Teen play New York’s Bowery Ballroom on Aug. 1, 2, 3 and 5).