Main Index Page General Ratings Page Rock Chronology Page Song Search Page New Additions Message Board


[Work on the page in progress]

Class ?

Main Category: Smart Pop
Also applicable: Art Rock, Meta-Rock, Punk/Grunge
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Pixies fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Pixies fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

For reading convenience, please open the reader comments section in a parallel browser window.


Coming soon.



Year Of Release: 1988
Overall rating = 12

Punk-pop on imaginary LSD.

Best song: too many choices.

Track listing: 1) Bone Machine; 2) Break My Body; 3) Something Against You; 4) Broken Face; 5) Gigantic; 6) River Euphrates; 7) Where Is My Mind?; 8) Cactus; 9) Tony's Theme; 10) Oh My Golly!; 11) You Fuckin Die!; 12) Vamos; 13) I'm Amazed; 14) Brick Is Red; [BONUS TRACKS (COME ON PILGRIM EP):] 15) Caribou; 16) Vamos; 17) Isla De Encanta; 18) Ed Is Dead; 19) The Holiday Song; 20) Nimrod's Son; 21) I've Been Tired; 22) Levitate Me.

It's fun to know that Pixies were always quoted by Kurt as one of the primary influences on Nirvana. See, where Nirvana essentially continued the "confessional" line of rock music, with songs that actually have meaning and take themselves seriously, Pixies are too hip for that, working more in the absurdist, avantgardist mode of things. Obviously, the influence was musical rather than "substantial", and that's the big deal about Surfer Rosa: what Black Francis and his colleagues are doing here is take the surreal and the senseless and the enigmatic and dress it up in "traditional" college-rock, punk, and indie-rock musical form. They weren't the first to do this - they were the first to do this in a Pixie way of things.

Now this here album I'm a-reviewin' in my edition actually comes together with a bonus EP called Come On Pilgrim, which actually came out in 1987 and was the first big apparition of the Pixies for the general public that bothered to buy it. Consequently, I should have reviewed it separately, but I normally don't "do" EPs that run for less than half an hour or so, so 'scuse me if I review 'em here back to back. As far as I know, the two have to be hunted for separately right now, but if I were you (that is, a sane healthy young person with a lust for life and a reasonable approach to his budget, not a crazy whacked out completist hooked on writing crappy music reviews), I wouldn't waste a whole lot of money on Pilgrim separately, good as it is. Better track down the old CD edition that has them back to back and overpay. Oh, and musically there's not a whole lot of progression from 1987 to 1988, so they do belong together.

Anyway, Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim is loud, catchy, ridiculous, occasionally monotonous, and occasionally mind-blowing. None of the songs are bad; in fact, all of the songs are good, that is, if you're the kind of guy who's thrilled by little unsolvable mysteries and lots screaming and abrasiveness that have to be overcome so you can truly enjoy the cool parts. The majority of the vocals are handled by Mr Francis himself, although bassist Kim Deal supplies her sweet female overtones where necessary. Which brings me to the inevitable comparison of Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth - is this some kind of freaky coincidence or what?

Never mind. This here music is just as weird and dirty as Sonic Youth, but much catchier. In fact, just learn the lyrics and you'll want to sing to any of these songs. After the initiation, you'll be wanting to sing 'Bone Machine' to your loved one - with a chorus like 'your bones got a little machine', how can she resist your charms? For a moment when your brain is particularly out of tune, the perfect remedy is to chant the chorus of 'Broken Face' - not forgetting the most mentally challenged intonation on all the 'uh-huh, uh-huh?'s. For moments of loneliness and despair, 'Cactus' (recently covered in a very similar, equally kick-ass version by David Bowie) will certainly do. 'Bloody your hands on a cactus tree, wipe it on your dress and send it to me'.

And so on. This album is an unending feast of otherworldly delight, and by "otherworldly" I don't mean "heavenly" or "hellish" or "cosmic" or any other worlds that we're all accustomed to. If Surfer Rosa were a living being, it'd be a six-year-old child wearing an iroquois and sporting the soul of a Captain Beefheart. And I make the emphasis on six-year old child here: this is all very, very, very simple music. So simple, in fact, that originally I didn't like it at all - heck, just another guitar-oriented rock band churning out the same post-punk drivel. It's only when you stop and take a deep think about who else actually sounds like that that it all kinda comes back to you.

I mean, I can't even begin thinking about what might be the best song on here. They're all so short and they're all so good. I could single out two or three songs that seem less interesting than the others, but what would be the point of that? Instead, while the impression is still redhot, I'll list some of the best moments. Kim Deal's vocal part on 'Gigantic' - great build-up to the chorus. The blowin'-the-back-of-yer-mind 'oooh oooh' harmonies on the appropriately titled 'Where Is My Mind?'. The fantastiwastic hard rock riff of 'Tony's Theme'. The psychotic Spanish singing on 'Oh My Golly'. The psychedelic rock flavour of 'River Euphrates', with these distorted guitars rolling over your psyche like waves of flaming gasoline (pardon my metaphor, I'm not much of a poet). The bits and pieces of Zappaesque dialog ('all I know is that - there were rumours, he was into field hockey players...'). The demented boogie of 'Vamos'. Did I miss something? Probably yes, but I'm not gonna go back and redo it anyway, I like that stream of conscious as it is.

Plus, there's all the "extra" stuff on Pilgrim - from the mock-romantic lyrical streak of 'Caribou' to the glorious closing power-pop of 'Levitate Me'. I don't like the EP nearly as much as the album, maybe just due to a lack of attention span, but that doesn't mean a whole lot of things. Sorry if I don't mention all the songs - most of them deserve to be mentioned, as every single one goes way beyond the average three-chord rocker, but if I started writing a thesis on each one, I'd never have time left for other worthy bands.

Flaws? Well, like I said, there's the monotonousness problem, but it's only occasional. Since they don't employ any "extra" instrumentation other than the basics, you sometimes get the craving for a more diverse approach - even if deep down your heart you know they're trying to be as diverse as possible. In any case, this is a rock hard 12 aiming for a 13, and it's that low only because the next album is even better.



Year Of Release: 1989
Overall rating = 13

The pixies are growing up! To be a DEBASER!

Best song: DEBASER, or HERE COMES YOUR MAN, or... whatever.

Track listing: 1) Debaser; 2) Tame; 3) Wave Of Mutilation; 4) I Bleed; 5) Here Comes Your Man; 6) Dead; 7) Monkey Gone To Heaven; 8) Mr. Grieves; 9) Crackity Jones; 10) La La Love You; 11) No. 13 Baby; 12) There Goes My Gun; 13) Hey; 14) Silver; 15) Gouge Away.

I am not exactly sure if the word "maturation" applies to the Pixies. I mean, if by "getting mature" you mean "getting more serious/sincere", then no, bands like these probably never mature. But there's something about Doolittle that makes you take it more seriously anyway. Maybe it's the lack of dialogue - lack of tracks like 'You Fuckin' Die' off the last record. Maybe it's the presence of several normal-sounding songs. Or maybe it's 'cause on the average this one rocks a bit more, and has some genuine aggression in spots, unlike the complete pseudo-juvenile goof-off manner of Surfer Rosa.

Or maybe it's just because Doolittle has no filler. Fifteen tracks and not a single duffer. Fifteen tracks, none of which take themselves seriously, none of which taunt the listener with elitist inaccessibility, and every one of which has something to say. Not in the lyrics, of course. 'I am un chien andalousia, wanna grow up to be a debaser', goes the first chorus on this record, and that's about as meaningful as it usually gets. And yet - can you imagine the record beginning with any other track but 'Debaser'? No, because it is the perfect album opener, with its powerful bass line, anthemic, rousing guitar lines, and instant electrifying vocal build-up: you would expect, I dunno, Midnight Oil to begin their albums that way. Except that Midnight Oil would sing lyrics about a wombat choking on gasoline, whereas the Pixies sing about slicing up eyeballs, girlie so groovie. It's the perfect post-modernist put-on, or maybe it's just the perfect expression of the rock'n'roll - "it's all in the music, man". Most probably both.

Everything here is based on unpredictability and enigma, yet everything sounds easy-packed ready-to-go. 'Tame' gets off on its chorus, where Francis keeps screaming 'you're taaaaaame, taaaaaaame!' knowing that the ideal listener will stop and wonder why the word "tame" gets such an aggressive expression. I mean, it would have been a totally different story if he screamed "you're laaaaaame" instead, wouldn't it? But ignore the lyrics and all you're getting is a catchy minimalist post-punk-rocker. 'Wave Of Mutilation' is power-pop again, riding a chainsaw buzz rhythm on a crest of sunny shiny innocent vocal melodies singing about how 'I'll sail away on a wave of mutilation'. Yeah right.

It's actually weird how there's so many songs on here dealing with violence, pain, and death - and yet how all of them treat these subjects as if they were all locked inside a dollhouse. Sometimes, after listening to stuff like 'I Bleed' or 'Dead', I occasionally start wondering if these guys weren't just parodying goth rock - and, of course, there are elements of parody here, but it wouldn't be right to reduce Doolittle to pure parody. Besides, every now and then the band plays the ultimate befuddling trick by inserting a totally normal sounding song in the midst of all the tongue-in-cheek weirdness. Like 'Here Comes Your Man', for instance, which is arguably one of the finest pop melodies ever committed to tape in the Eighties - a melody that almost seems to be coming straight from your Nuggets vault rather than anywhere else. To anybody who doubted the ability of the Pixies to write a solid pop tune, just listen once to the 'you'll never wait so long...' bridge and tell me your opinion. (Which sucks anyway, ha ha). Yeah right.

Then several songs later comes 'La La Love You', which is even more straightforward - and almost as great in the melody department, with a wonderful electric guitar line lifting it up and lyrics that only betray irony when they go "first base, second base, third base, home run!". A perfect sappy-dippy love song... except it's jammed in between 'Crackity Jones', the fastest, most schizophrenic rocker on the album, and 'No. 13 Baby' where the lyrics go "black tear falling on my lazy queen, got a tattooed tit say number thirteen". Yeah right.

The important thing is, you don't need to analyze this stuff. It's impressionism. It works like a bit of grain in a sea of chaff. Don't pay attention to the chaff, look out for the grain. When you hear a song like 'Monkey Gone To Heaven', you don't need to ask yourself who's the monkey and why is it going to heaven and if it is going to heaven, is it just a very lucky monkey or do all good monkeys go to heaven. (Well, you can ask yourself all that - but then you sure got more problems than I do, bud). But you need to hear the word "heaven", and maybe the words "devil" and "god" as well, and put them in conjunction with the song's moody, slightly "out there" melody, and what you get as a result is the Pixies' odd take on all matters religious. Which is... well, think for yourself! Or, better still, don't think at all. Just enjoy the beauty of the song (and it is beautiful).

Which brings me full circle back to the beginning of the review - why does Doolittle sound more mature? Because it tackles more mature matters. Because there's a basic, unspoken idea underlying each song. If this sounds like I'm reading too much into these guys' endless put-ons, don't worry, I'm not, because I'm not taking anything here at face value (yeah, you try taking this at face value). But I never ever get the feeling that I'm listening to, uh, a second-hand version of They Might Be Giants here. It's a pretty serious album. It's a hilarious, ironic, self-mocking, post-modernist serious album. Yeah, they're kind of a more rare breed than white rhinoceros, but they do exist, and Doolittle is one of them. Hey, why d'ya think it gets a 13? For the halo around the monkey's head?



Year Of Release: 1990
Overall rating = 11

It's almost as if Black Francis was trying to, like, really TELL us something here. Rather weird coming from a guy with such an acute case of dislexia.

Best song: IS SHE WEIRD, VELOURIA, HAVALINA all qualify

Track listing: 1) Cecilia Ann; 2) Rock Music; 3) Velouria; 4) Allison; 5) Is She Weird; 6) Ana; 7) All Over The World; 8) Dig For Fire; 9) Down To The Well; 10) The Happening; 11) Blown Away; 12) Hang Wire; 13) Stormy Weather; 14) Havalina.

Let's begin this with my latest speculations on rock theory. Most bands I've heard fall into two distinct categories. Let's call them SET and LOOSE for short. The SET category means a band that has, either from the beginning or after several different attempts, attained a particular image, a particular style, a particular way of recognizability, a particular musical ideology. The LOOSE category means a band that is constantly battling against the "particulars"; not wishing to get forever stuck in one niche, it is constantly looking in opposite directions. Thus, AC/DC is the "set" band par excellence, and the Beatles are the "loosest" of all loose bands I've heard. This isn't necessarily the same thing as "diverse", because it is quite possible to be quite 'set' even when you're fiddling with different musical genres. The Mothers of Invention, for instance, were quite a "set" band.

Every now and then, though, a "set" band tries to add some "looseness" to its image. The trick is: it never really works well. It's probably something that runs in your blood, but you're really either set or you're just too goddamn loose. And Pixies' third album, Bossanova, is ample proof. To my ears, it sounds like Black Francis has taken a long running jump here, trying to cross over the wall that the band had just finished putting up with Doolittle... and ended up with a "broken face".

Not that it's a complete failure. A truly skilful "set" band is very unlikely to have a complete failure in anything it does (which is its one big advantage over the "loose" band). But the Pixies aren't Gods; they have their flaws in addition to their strong points, and so the less they rely on their strong points in order to try something different, the more obvious the flaws become. Earlier, one of their strong points was diversity - in styles and moods; Bossanova goes for a much more monolithic "dark rock" sound. Another of their strong points was weirdness and unpredictability; Bossanova sounds quite normal in many spots, with 'standard' type rock songs, verses, choruses, etc. Yet another strong point was a wicked sense of humour: Bossanova tones it down as well. As a result, the weaknesses - arrangements that border on simplistic, lack of playing skills, occasional lyrical blunders - all rise to the surface, sensing that now's the chance to try and topple this band.

I have no idea what exactly caused this change of direction, but my prime guess is on the artistic ambitions of Black Francis. It's quite telling that Kim Deal did not have too much creative involvement in Bossanova - not composing anything and only very occasionally contributing backing vocals (the basslines are quite mean at times, though); this is obviously very much the brainchild of one surrealistic mind, and in rock music, one has never really been more convincing than two. Where you have one instead of two, chances are you'll find some centralized idea that no one else is able and/or willing to oppose - and true enough, from top to bottom, from the sci-fi album cover to the absolute majority of the lyrics, this sounds like a prime time concept album - always revolving around the issues of space, space travelling, aliens, love under strange skies and so on. That B.F. is a big dreamer was obvious from the very start, but Bossanova overdoes the trick: it's all one big blurry, mushy, and eventually ominous dream, only sporadically bordering on true nightmare but nevertheless, rarely letting the listener let his guard down: it's always as if evil things are just round the corner!

Therefore, in order to truly love Bossanova, in order to rate it the same or even above the lightweight absurdism of Doolittle, you have to trust in Black Francis - to validate his ego and his "Me Big Artist Chief" badge. I, myself, am not sure that I really want to do this; therefore, I confess to not falling in love with Cecilia Ann, Velouria, Ana, Allison, or whatever other six-headed, seventy-legged green female monsters B.F. would like to bed in his fantasies. (Hey, he ain't got no descriptions of these objects of fancy in the lyrics, so I'm free to exercise my own imagination). However, "falling in love with" is not the same as "liking", and looking at the track list, I can't really find one song about which I could say: "This song has not one reason to exist".

Well, on the purely organic level I am very much annoyed by the misleadingly titled 'Rock Music'. Misleadingly, not because this isn't rock music, but because it's intentionally bad rock music. It's hardcore, I guess, with a fast jarring guitar trill carrying the 'melody' and Francis yelling 'miles and miles away! miles and miles away!' at the hardcore top of his hardcore lungs. Of course, it should be taken as a parody, rather like Ween's 'You Fucked Up', but where 'You Fucked Up' stands on its own as a crude, dumb joke that works because it's so self-consciously "below-the-waist", 'Rock Music' isn't funny at all. It's just boring (if a two minute track can be boring) and it doesn't even fit in well with the rest of the material.

Other than that one conceptual misfire, I can't voice any specific complaints. 'Cecilia Ann' is a Surftones instrumental, sort of linking the Pixies' lightness (surf muzak!) with density and heaviness (sounds pretty deep in tone, definitely not unfit for a sci-fi concept album. 'Velouria' seems to be a re-write of 'Wave Of Mutilation', but it's a good re-write, now putting the band's epic-romantic inclinations into astral context. 'Allison', at one minute and eleven seconds, is one of the shortest rockers that these guys ever wrote, and doesn't indeed need to be one second longer - not because it's so bad, but because it has a bit of the classic Wire spirit injected inside: make your point and get out.

And so on and on. Like I said, every song has something to it, and since there's fourteen of them suckers on here, I won't be able to concentrate on everything, for fear of actually spending more time on a particular song that the Pixies spent on it themselves. I'll just mention a few of the most interesting ones. 'Is She Weird' is one of the oddest songs to ever concern Goth/vampire motives - neither scary nor openly parodic, with an instantly memorable nursery rhyme-style chorus that almost finds itself at odds with the 'mystical' guitar tones but redeems itself with extra aggressiveness and loudness. 'The Happening' combines (a) a great drive, (b) a cool nonchalant riff, (c) funny synchronization between weeping guitar lines and falsetto harmonies in the chorus, (d) a goofy piece of spoken 'poetry' as the song winds down. (Lyrically, it's probably the culmination of the "concept" - an account of the aliens' arrival, no less). And 'Havalina' is the only song on here to actually possess moments of beauty; doesn't that gorgeous minimalistic guitar intro remind you of classic Sixties' "upbeat balladeering"? To me, it does, and it provides a beautiful, unforgettable coda to the album just as you were already starting to suspect that it wouldn't be criminal to shut it off after track 10.

In general, I can't even say that the 'concept' doesn't work. But it simply doesn't work as effectively as the apparent lack of concept on Doolittle. It's impossible to logistically prove that the Pixies weren't born to make albums like Bossanova, but that's exactly the feeling I have in my bones. It's like letting a highly trained comic actor play a tragic role - if he's a professional, he'll probably do well, but it just isn't his emploi, and others will better him. Hence, a slight misfire despite the nevertheless high overall quality.


Return to the main index page