The Pixies

This ain't the planet of sound. This is a wave of mutilation!

Strongest album: Trompe Le Monde
Weakest album: Bossanova

The best band of the late '80s and early '90s? Well, if you're going to microchop rock'n'roll into little microeras, then yes, the Pixies were the best new band operating during the Bush administration. The Pixies microchopped rock to pieces and put them together again like a computer graphic simulation, which is a highfalutin way of saying the Pixies sounded high tech. Most bands who opt for such a futuristic, completely bluesless approach are synth fops, but the Pixies were a loud guitar band. An average all-American guitar band that sounded like they were from Mars. While not blindingly original, the Pixies tilted standard post-punk guitar rock here and there until the result came out like the musical equivalent of Picasso's ultra-angular cubist paintings. And the thing was, the Pixies weren't some weird art band. No, they were a highly accessible pop-rock band that both popped and rocked, which most pop-rock bands have a hard time doing. Black Francis (nowadays Frank Black, real name I forget right at this moment) wrote melodies worthy of Brian Wilson, and proceeded to tear'em apart with savage screams and slashing guitar. Bassist Kim Deal chirped in with ballsy tomboy harmonies and took a too occassional spotlight. David Lovering drummed, and Joey Santiago played some good weird lead guitar. Kurt Cobain admitted to ripping them off, and so do a bunch of other bands. In fact, only My Bloody Valentine's gauzy guitar sound has proved as influential on '90s rock. The only problem with the Pixies is that their songs don't mean anything; Black just babbles a bunch of stuff he read in science fiction anthologies and saw last night on cable. But hey, who ever said rock'n'roll had to sound important? If you can get past the lyrics (an easy thing for me to do), the Pixies are lot of fun. If you can't, well there are a lot of Bob Dylan albums out there.

There are quite a few Pixies websites out there. You can start scouting around at the Pixies Jar.

Come On Pilgrim EP (1987) ***

A very promising debut - emphasis on "promising." The Pixies have their sounds and textures down cold already, but there's not a lot of the compressed songfulness (and angular hookcraft) that we'd come to expect from this agglomeration. I wish prettily strummed ditties like "Caribou" would find a chorus and finally turn into a complete song, but for the most part our Pixies get by on atmosphere alone. Exceptions: the final cut, "Levitate Me," (great song, easily the best cut) and the one in which Black meets this goth chick and worries aloud about losing his penis to a diseased whore. By rough estimate, about a third of these songs are in Espanol. If I weren't so lazy I'd actually pull out that dictionary from my college Spanish class and translate Black's babblings, except that in any language Black's babblings are Black's babblings which means that he speaks naught but babble. Don't get me wrong if you think this is a negative review by any means - this enchilada steams. The whole thing just sounds so good - it's just not up to the level of later Pixies efforts as far as songs are concerned. I read somewhere that this is appended to Surfer Rosa on CD, but I've got this CD and they're releasing it separately . I've got Surfer Rosa on tape. I paid two dollars for this disc (it didn't have a case).

Surfer Rosa (1988) ***1/2

Some rate this as the definitive Pixies, mainly because of Steve Albini's loud, booming production. Myself, I've never cared for Albini and think he's highly overrated, and who buys records for producer, anyway? The Pixies are still in their formative stage, which isn't to say they aren't an advanced unit at this juncture. I long for better melodies and I wish some of the slower surf-influenced pieces like "Cactus" actually went somewhere. Overall it's inconsistent, but the good stuff's really cool. Deal lisps her way through her best Pixies track, "Gigantic", about interracial love, with huge, oceanic waves of crashing guitar on the monster chorus. I don't understand a word of "River Euphrates" - something about being stuck here on the Gaza Strip - but it might very well be my favorite Pixies song. "Tony's Theme" kind of reminds me of the B-52s on bad crack, but maybe that's just me. "Break My Body" has a memorable chorus, and some of the other songs are okay, too. The between-song dialogue is neat, too - "I don't know, I heard rumors, he was into field hockey players...." And hey Beavis, it's got like a naked chick on the cover, heh heh heh!

Doolittle (1989) ****1/2

The Pixies bring it all together into their unique sound and make their first great album on their major-label debut. Adding the elements of jangley guitars, better melodies, and more memorable choruses, the Pixies slam surf-rock and indie jangle-pop into each other and bury both of'em under crashing guitar rock. "Debaser" possesses a bass-line to die for, and just how many songs can you think of right now that are built on great bass lines? Actually, Ms. Deal does herself proud throughout the proceedings; too bad she only gets the lead vocal on "Silver" as a spotlight. I prefer the acoustic version of "Wave Of Mutilation" myself, but the loud plugged in version will do me in a fix. "Monkey Gone To Heaven" is math rock in the same league as Love's "7 & 7 Is", and it's also great devil rock to boot - what more could you ask for? The first Pixies song I heard was the charming pure-pop gem, "Here Comes Your Man", a big MTV hit -not everything on 120 Minutes sucks. I wasn't looking at the title list, so when I first heard "Tame", I thought that Black was screaming, "Pain!" which makes more sense, because all through the album he sounds like he's a deranged fat boy out to get his revenge on the world that shunned him. Helps that he's got a sense of humor, a deliciously sick one at that. Who else would end with a song entitled "Gouge Away"? I've listened to this a hundred times and still haven't figured out whether "La La Love You" is ironic or heartfelt. Probably both.

Reader Comments

Paul Smith,

Just to tell you, La La Love is very ironic. This comes straight from the horses mouth (i.e. Black Francis).

Bossanova (1990) ***

Kind of a drag. It sounds like the last album, only not as loud except for the incomprehensible "Rock Music" (which I like), and without a whole lot of good songs. The Pixies delve deeper into surf music, which I appreciate, but I really wish they'd attached some killer tunes to their hooks. The one for the greatest hits collection is "Velouria", about an alien Black falls in love with. The sci-fi theme shows up in a number of other songs, but they have a song about a vampire or a goth trendy, same difference - "Is she weird, is she white, is she given to the night?" That's a really good chorus but unfortunately it's also the album's most memorable. "Dig For Fire" is okay. In fact, most of these songs are okay, it's just that an entire album of okay songs does not a good album make. A few really great songs scattered around here are needed to make this work.

Trompe Le Monde (1991) *****

The pinnacle of Pixies, they keep the pop melodies and warped surf music and weird stylings and bring back the noise for their loudest, most abrasive album. That abrasiveness puts a lot of people off, but I like it 'cause it rocks hard and weird. The first song and title track airily speeds along about a little record and Washington State, and the last song airily floats along about the Navajo and you can't understand a single word of either without the lyric sheet. I myself know all the words by heart; I went to a party once where this was blasting and I was singing along the whole time. I hadn't had a thing to drink but some guy pulled me aside as I was about to leave, "You probably need a ride home, you're pretty messed up". Which hopefully is the effect this party record will have on you. My brother thinks "Planet Of Sound" sounds like music people on crack listen to. "Alec Eiffel" is amazingly compressed. The cover of "Head On" saves you the trouble of buying Jesus & The Mary Chain's Automatic - just so you're not mislead, on Automatic every song sounds exactly same, with the same arrangement and melody on every song. "It's educational!" as the Pixies say on "U-Mass" about their old alma mater. "Subacultcha" takes overdue aim at trendy black clad artsy types, which I suppose is kind of courageous because a lot of the Pixies' audience consists of trendies in black. "Motorway To Roswell" is lovely and yearning. "Space (I Believe In)", a.k.a. "Jefrey with one F Jefrey", has Black humming the Perry Mason theme. "Distance Equals Rate Times Time" - if "We got to get some beer/We got no atmosphere" ain't a great keg anthem, then lighten up you puritan straight-edger. I pretty much dig the whole thing; when I want to listen to the Pixies, I listen to this. Fun, fun, fun, 'til daddy takes the sea monkeys away to the Palace of the Brine (a semi-clever way of saying that I don't like that song).

Reader Comments

Peter O'Riordan,

oh look i really don't think trompe le monde's the best. it's not. i mean "mr. into hooks", how can you like the navajo know, hardly has a chorus does it and i just don't think it has the quality of tunes like their first three, which all have this scarily great quality, that trompe doesn't reflect either in the production or something else. i do like the way the title track lurches at the start though, and don't get me wrong, alot of the album, just not as good, like in the way that bossanova isn't. overriding impression i got any who

Complete B-Sides (2001) ***1/2

Pixies fanatics already own all these previously released single flipsides (actually, CD-single bonus tracks, since the Pixies released material at the dawn of the digital age), but it's a treat to have all these on one handy disc instead of seven. No way is this set cohesive or consistent, but the Pixies' scraps are more interesting than most bands' top-notch A-sides, and they should've saved some of the superior Doolittle-era B-sides to improve the inferior songs on Bossonova. Excepting for "Wave of Mutalitation (UK Surf)" that's superior to the Doolittle version, there's nothing really that essential in these odds and sods, but boy-howdy, what fun these throwaways are! There's a great tune from Eraserhead covered, plus a couple of fetching Neil Young tunes and a Yardbirds classic babbled in Espanol. And let's not forget the crucial video game cover, "Theme From Narc." The originals are cool, too - there's a dance named after a deadly aquatic creature, a starry-eyed mash-note to Debbie Gibson, some more Spanish, being weird at school, and, you know, "The Thing," whatever that is. Not for non-fans, but better than Bossonova.

The Breeders: Pod (1990) **1/2

Kim Deal's unquestionably talented, yet Black's dictatorial control over the Pixies left her without much of an outlet for her creativity. So instead of staying frustrated, she formed a sidegroup. All of the Breeders are women; Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses joining forces makes this something of a college rock supergroup. The Breeders, however, sound like the Pixies and Deal writes all the songs, which makes it less of a supergroup than a frontperson with backing musicians type deal (no pun intended). Their debut's pretty shaky, particularly the first half; only an inventive cover of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and the aborted fetus' revenge of "Hellbound" stand out. The second side's better, but not all that great; the jangly "Fortunately Gone" is the highlight. The Breeders have a good sound on this record, but they haven't written enough good songs to make this record all that memorable. Better luck next time.

The Breeders: Safari EP (1992) ***

Not bad for a four-song stopgap between real releases. Actually, I believe this was the first Breeders disc released after the Pixies' breakup, not that it shows in any particular way. The first two songs are more than decent. The girl-group update, "Do You Love Me Now?" finds Deal much more insistent on her man's loyalty than the docile Shrangri-Las pleaded, as befits these post-feminist times. "Don't Call Home," stops and starts amusingly and winds up a kiss-off - "Don't call ever." Plus I really dig that loud guitar feedback that weaves its way throughout. The final two songs are a bit better. The title track rocks like the river Euphrates, and they end with a brief, breezy run-through the Who's "So Sad About Us." Keep on a-la-la-la-la-la'ing.

The Breeders: Last Splash (1993) ***

The commercial breakthrough; the Pixies were never as successful as the Breeders in the summer of '93. "Cannonball" is a deserved smash with a great bassline that makes you get down, get down, jungle boogie!, and "Divine Hammer" is a pretty ballad with some really obvious phallic imagery - "I'd bang it all day/Bang bang!". "I Just Want To Get Along" is a neat Rodney King paraphrase, and has the great zinger, "If you're so special, why aren't you dead?" "Driving On 9" is a wonderful Patsy Cline style country ballad. "Saints" has a good "summer's ready when you are" chorus, and "No Aloha" kicks real good at the end. The album's inconsistent, though, and the sound is uncomfortably raw: too much of this sounds like Pixies demoes searching for the right producer. It's okay, and a deserved success, and when it came out I listened to it quite a bit; but it doesn't hold up over time, and I haven't listened to it since '93, except for the other day because I needed to hear it again for this review. The pictures inside the CD booklet are cool, though.

Don't ask me about Frank Black's solo career, because I don't own his records. I've heard them and think that they're okay - just okay, not great or anything. Maybe I'll find'em cheap and then I'll review them.

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