This band appeared, made an impact, then left. The five or six years Pixies were together 1987-1992 marked a real change in music. They showed us that you don’t have to be the best technical guitar player or singer, and also can look like you just crawled out of bed to play rock shows. All that said, it’s not like Pixies were a bunch of slobs who just happened to throw together some songs; Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black) was one of the greatest, most consistent and diverse songwriters ever, covering a very broad range of styles albeit with his own overall “harsh” tone. Pixies could do it all really, and over the course of only four records, they never made one that wasn’t completely awesome. That is not something you can say about almost any other band. Their time together might have been brief, but that might make a great point for all band’s being more concise and to the point.
Black Francis – Guitar, Vocals
Kim Deal – Bass, Vocals
David Lovering – Drums
Joey Santiago – Guitar
Best Album: Surfer Rosa
Biggest Influence: Pere Ubu, Violent Femmes, Cheap Trick, Jesus and Mary Chain, Neil Young
1988 – (5 / 5)+ − Surfer Rosa
1989 – (5 / 5) − Doolittle
1990 – (5 / 5) − Bossanova
1992 – (5 / 5) − Trompe Le Monde
Surfer Rosa – (5 / 5)+
‘Urgency’ is the key word to describe this record. Surfer Rosa did not reinvent the rock landscape by itself, but it signaled a change was needed. In the days where the pop charts were ruled by bad metal and horrible synth pop (hey, kind of like thirty years after the fact…), Pixies showed something different to the world. They gave originality and heart where others just copied and imitated. Black Francis doesn’t sing his lullabies to you, he wails them! “Break My Body”, “Broken Face”, “River Euphrates”, these were themes of frantic abandon and whirls of punk fury. Surfer Rosa is not a record that just flies by with a bunch of fast songs though; for every “Tony’s Theme” there is a controlled, calmer song like “Cactus”. There is as much of a singer/songwriter in Francis as there is a kind of wild Iggy Pop character, and that complexity shows through on the album. It is only about 35 minutes long and often feels like wayyy longer than that (which is a good thing in this case). The band is not without it’s influences: for one it screams Pere Ubu’s Modern Dance in every way, especially with closer “Brick is Red”. That song might as well be called “Humor Me Pt. II”! Pere Ubu is not the only influence here, but it is the most obvious as both bands have maniacal, hefty lead singers and their debut albums shine with bizarre complex song styles.
It has to be said that some of the greatest rock songs ever propel this record forward: “Vamos” is a charging mess of Spanish themed obscenity; “Where is My Mind” is a likable song with nonsense lyrics about nothing in particular (should have been a hit); “River Euphrates” is easily my favorite Pixies song with its demented, out-of-this-world- guitar play and off key dual vocals meets surf-music approach. Last but not least, the album is crafted well from start to finish, with moderate rockers, screaming anthems, and even some softer ballad like songs put it an order that influenced generations to come; some might even say “indie rock” in all its forms began with this album, Kim Deal’s sole writing credit “Gigantic” being a perfect example of this new kind of power ballad. No matter what I really say in this review there is only one point I want to make – Surfer Rosa is one of the greatest debut albums ever, or just albums period.
Greatest Songs – River Euphrates, Break My Body, Brick is Red, Vamos, Gigantic
Doolittle – (5 / 5)
I think Doolittle has a better reputation than its predecessor because it is more fun and light hearted. I mean this album is actually cool and hip sounding, where as Surfer Rosa almost jumped out and shook you around. Doolittle is a great follow up to Surfer Rosa because it expands the band’s sound without really changing the formula. It’s the same kind of album, done over with more flair and pizazz! That might not make it better, but it sure makes it more accessible, and to follow an abrasive debut like Pixies had, Doolittle succeeds and then some. Some of the fury is still in the band’s heart on songs like “Tame”, “Dead”, and “Crackity Jones”. Mostly though, a kind of sophistication shines through on “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, “Here Comes Your Man”, and “Hey” that cements the band’s importance in rock history.
These songs tell great stories, but they also have a kind of loveable, powerful sense of humor that is so present and confident that no one can deny its power. Doolittle has great structure to it as well, the songs vary so all members of the band have showcases like Lovering’s singing on “La La Love You” or Deal’s off kilter background vocals on almost every track. It should be said that Deal and Francis are one of the best vocal teams in rock music, a fact often over looked. “I Bleed” is a key song on the album; a harrowing journey simply because of the childlike recitation. So, in conclusion, is this the band’s best album? Well, its all opinion. The record is more accessible to most tastes but personally, I purchased Surfer Rosa first, so I may be more inclined to think it’s the best. Then again, they are both in my favorite albums ever list and are both really awesome and fun to listen too, as well as very consistent. Whether or not Doolittle is the best Pixies record is debatable, but one thing is for sure- It breathes beauty and humor into back into music upon each listen, and is one of rock’s most monumental achievements.
Greatest Songs – I Bleed, Monkey Gone to Heaven, Tame, Number 13 Baby, Hey
Bossanova – (5 / 5)
Pixies calm down a little bit on their 3rd record, but that doesn’t really mean anything except more of the songs are ‘drifty’ then ‘yelly’. Bossanova is underrated in the band’s discography because it is seen as some sort of step down in quality, but this is untrue. It takes the band’s sound to a more organic feeling, different direction, that is all. Do “Veloria”, “Is She Weird”, “Alison”, and “Hang Wire” sound like the Pixies of old? Well of course, it could not be anyone else with that signature sound. This is a fun, consistent album, full of phantasmagoric journeys (“The Happening”, “Veloria”), beach song lullabies (“Ana”, “Havalina”), and terrific, riff driven songs (“Down to the Well”, “Blown Away”). There is only one song, “Stormy Weather”, that takes more absorption to understand than its predecessors, but Bossanova would be considered a masterpiece by almost any other band’s standard. One could argue that it doesn’t change much formula wise and that is why it shows a kind of wear and tear, but it is still a beautiful record because of its consistency, confidence, and melodic brilliance. Not every band, makes the kind of music that should change drastically between records- sometimes they get it right on the first try! It deserves the same high regard as any of Pixies’ albums, and the 3rd straight masterpiece in a row.
Greatest Songs – Velouria, Down to the Well, The Happening, All Over the World
Trompe Le Monde – (5 / 5)
Well, the band adopts a different kind of edge for this album. Back is the humor and toughness of Surfer Rosa, mixed with the tempo changes of Doolittle, combined the psychedelics of Bossanova, and it really is a mixed bag. As usual there is that one song I just don’t like on the Pixies album, “Bird Dreams of the Olympus Mons”, but even that song illustrates the influence here: The Jesus and Mary Chain. One of that band’s songs is covered, “Head On”, and many people agree that Pixies do it better (I am one of them). There also some beautifully structured songs here: “Alec Effel” is my favorite, where the songs chorus is insane and doesn’t make no, SENSE; “The Sad Punk” is kind of two songs in one, harking back to Husker Du’s “Back from Somewhere”. Francis writes his greatest Pixies ballads on this record, “Letter to Memphis” and “Motorway to Roswell”, which are purely timeless and beautiful. Meanwhile, “U-Mass”, “Planet of Sound”, and “Distance Equals Rate Times Time” rock your face of in a great way, reminding us of the thrill of life. Two of the stranger songs are in the middle, “Space” with its obsession with (Jeffery with one ‘f’) and “Subbacultcha” which proves lyrical nonsense can exist and be completely believable. You know, only a band with as much confidence as Pixies could pull of a song like “Subbacultcha” and not have it be laughable.
Well I hate to leave out any songs on here, this is my 2nd favorite Pixies album after Surfer Rosa, but I’ll just say “Palace of the Brine”, “Lovely Day”, and “The Navajo Know” are just as good as the aforementioned ones. Turns out, the band broke up after only their forth record which was truly a tragedy. Deal’s side project, The Breeders, became her full time band (kind of…) and Black Francis changed his name around to Frank Black for a solo career. Trompe Le Monde sums up everything great about Pixies, It has everything you could ask for in rock music, but also make the Pixies the only band I have ever reviewed (with a substantial amount of records) to have every rating 5 stars. That doesn’t necessarily make them my favorite band ever, but I think it is fair to say that it makes them a perfect band. Not many other bands knew how to make records as consistent and fun as these guys did, and I am glad they existed.
Greatest Songs – Alec Eiffel, Subbacultcha, Letter to Memphis, Motorway to Roswell
Compilations (Ep’s, Live albums, B Sides, etc.)
Come on Pilgrim – (4.5 / 5)
Though sounding of its time in a way, nothing can really prepare you for the offbeat mix of the Pixies first EP. Future greatness is almost assured from the beginning with “Caribou”, one hell of an opener. The band hits you with a soaring chorus and insane, demented singing all at once. That is the band’s style, and here they are off to a great start. “Ed is Dead”, “I’ve Been Tired”, and “Isla De Encanta” are songs that show a unique talent emerging in the late 80’s, and each player adds his/her own thing. Deal’s backup vocals and simple bass plucking is in a world of its own; Santiago’s lead guitar is played with a sinister fervor that is actually accessible; Lovering’s drumming, while being rooted in the 80’s for sure, is one of the most influential of all drummers of any kind. Then there is Black Francis himself – what a writer. Tales of incest (“Holiday Song”), Spanish flavored rock (“Vamos”), and STD’s (“I’ve Been Tired”) have never been so charming! There are some obvious influences here: the most recognizable is of course the vocals of Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes fame, also The Minutemen’s “Toadies” mocking riff of “elevatorladylevitateme” and The Jesus and Mary Chain sound in “Levitate Me”. These are not stolen sounds however, merely a songwriter who has great taste trying to own up to his influences, and the results are beyond promising.
Greatest Songs – Holiday Song, Levitate Me, Ed is Dead, Caribou