Tag Archives: Kim Deal

The Breeders – Last Splash – Classic Music Review

The music world is all abuzz about the return of The Breeders to the recording studio, “FEATURING THE LAST SPLASH LINEUP!” They’ve released a new single (“Wait in the Car”) in limited vinyl editions, and to my ears they sound pretty fucking fabulous. I tried to get tickets to their Paris gig on their extremely limited European tour, mais tous vendus! All sold out!

I love Nice but it’s a musical backwater. Paris gets The Breeders; we get Coldplay. Fuck.

I’m always very skeptical when a band from the past attempts to recapture their glory years, but I’m more curious than suspicious when it comes to The Breeders. They were just starting to peak with the release of Last Splash when Kelley Deal was busted for heroin possession, interrupting their trajectory and leaving admirers dreaming of what could have been. The band eventually re-formed with other members, but when they regrouped with the Last Splash lineup to support the release of a 20th anniversary edition, people really started paying attention—The Last Splash lineup has always been the gold standard as far as Breeders fans are concerned. I missed out on the original release (shit, I’d only just turned thirteen), but Last Splash became one of my favorite albums of my pre-college years. I always felt cheated by the deafening silence that followed Last Splash because I felt their catalog had a lot of room to grow. I’d love to see what they can do on a full-length LP (rumored for next year).

I’ve also learned to adopt a dubious posture when revisiting music that came out in the 90’s. It’s embarrassing to admit that most of the music I loved during my teens now sounds dated and faddish—a lot of attitude without the talent or depth to back it up (hello, Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love and Billy Corgan). Being able to brag about the great music that came out during one’s teenage years is one of the relatively few things I envy about The Baby Boomers (along with free love, birth control, civil rights and women’s liberation). While there was a lot of silly shit going on in the 60’s, there was even more great music in multiple genres that still sounds fab fifty years later. Too much of the music produced in the 90’s seems trapped in the amber of the end of the millennium, along with the Y2K non-event and thousands of belly-up dot-coms.

Last Splash is one of the few albums from the 90’s that I can unequivocally endorse. An incredibly diverse record that mixes grunge, power pop, surf, country and experimental, the quality of Last Splash is a testament to Kim Deal’s innate fascination with sound and her willingness to experiment with possibilities that most people would classify as “silly.” “Record a sewing machine?” “Yeah, what the fuck, let’s do it!” “Kelley doesn’t know how to play guitar!” “Well, she can learn.” That curiosity and courage led to the creation of alluring soundscapes and compositions that move way beyond grunge limitations, foreshadowing mid-career Radiohead (another band that began life steeped in grunge). The progressive aspects of Last Splash are delightfully balanced with glimpses of middle class Americana and more than a touch of playful humor. Kim Deal had already proved she was more than the Pixies’ bassist on The Breeders’ first release, Pod (also unequivocally endorsed), and Last Splash demonstrated her continuing development as a painter of sound and mood.

Her clear sense of intention is demonstrated in the short liberation piece, “New Year.” Opening with a simple two-note guitar pattern that feels like a gathering call, the slow and deliberate pace of the first verse, with its message “We have come for light,” seems to reflect the belief that music, through its power to capture thought and emotion that cannot be expressed through words, is a viable path to self-fulfillment. The band shifts to high power right after Kim’s insistence that “It’s true,” chugging along with Josephine Wiggs driving the rhythm with her decisive bass style, establishing a steady pattern frequently punctuated by power chords and Jim McPherson’s intense drum bursts. When Kim sings “I am the sun/I am the new year/I am the rain,” she’s not expressing ego but the feeling of power that emerges when one is immersed in the musical moment. This is why I love making noise with a distorted guitar on my piece-of-shit amp—I feel like the supreme goddess, producing wave after wave of raw power that emanates not from my hands but from my soul. Following the band’s demonstration of the thrill inherent in musical liberation, Kim quietly reaffirms that “It’s true” in her parting words, confirming in language what we intuited during that passage of unrestrained power.

Like fellow Daytonian Robert Pollard, Kim’s lyrics often tend towards the absurdist-obscurist school of poetry, though I don’t think she’s as impenetrable as some MALE critics depict her. A good example of her lyrical approach can be found in “Cannonball,” probably the song from Last Splash most familiar to the general public. The word has two complementary meanings—one is the explosive device and the other is the explosive form of diving involving bundling oneself into a tight ball before plummeting into the pool with a humongous splash that soaks everyone within 50 feet of the point of impact. Kim uses both meanings as a metaphor for explosive male energy—the destructive form used in the male sport of war and the annoying form we see in the male sport of showing off one’s masculine power and acting like a total asshole. Kim expresses what many women experience when faced with this often undisciplined power—desire (the repetition of “want you”) and danger (the repetition of “cuckoo” or “koo-koo,” a synonym for “volatile”). So, yeah, she wants to be the “bong in this reggae song” and stimulate the male sex drive, but knowing the danger, she wants to cool him off a little and find a more intimate, private mating spot (the repetition of “in the shade”). The musical support for those lyrics is fantastic, integrating fascination (the question mark expressed in the sinuous slide guitar riff) with the sense of alarm (the opening repetition of ahh-OOH) and the expression of the carnal urge (the shift to vocal distortion and all-out bash). The vocals are outstanding, with the call-and-response mirroring the inner dialogue we have with ourselves when we’re uncertain about taking the plunge with our latest object of desire. Those vocals also display the rare but fortuitous magic of twin sisters engaged in harmony, an experience deeply pleasing to the ears.

The flightiness of the male half of the species is highlighted in “Invisible Man,” featuring a dampened background of distortion, bass and synthesizer that, when mixed with Kim’s soft, husky voice, gives the song a cocoon-like feel. Thematically one of the lovelier songs on the album, the low-key melodic line and chord pattern invite a series of lovely synth and guitar fills that intensify the feeling of emptiness as you “count the bubbles in your hand.” I love how they add the sounds of a wind chime on the fade, indicating that yet another unreliable male has vanished into the wind to sow his sticky oats.

“No Aloha” is a disarming anthem to female independence from marriage and motherhood. Opening with Kim’s heavily-reverbed voice sounding like a spirit disconnected from her body, she’s soon supported by a lo-fi, heavily-reverbed slide guitar and stiff rhythm guitar that come together to create the sound of an amateur band gigging in a Honolulu tourist trap. The highlight of the song comes early, when Kim makes her own statement of liberation: “Motherhood means mental freeze.” A pretty strong statement indeed, but when you reluctantly unpack the condensed poetic message, what she’s really testifying to is the reality of a woman in a world of limited choices. The primary expectation heaped upon the vast majority of young women is motherhood, and motherhood usually involves serving as the weaker economic power in a relationship and facing a disrupted career/life path. “Oh, great, I get to stay home trying to have conversations with fucking two year-olds who need hours of attention and make a fucking mess of everything so I can wind up exhausted by nine o’clock.” No. Fucking. Thanks. While there are some women who do manage to conquer many of the obstacles that mothers face, and while there are many countries outside the USA do a much better job of supporting professional mothers, there are many women whose psyches cannot bear the thought of the oppressive responsibilities of motherhood.

It’s just not in every woman’s DNA, so leave us the fuck alone.

The second, loud section repeats the first verse, the lyrics now backed with firm intention, reflecting the confidence-nourishing tonic of independent choice. Kelley’s lead fills are outstanding, but what really jumps out at you here are Josephine Wiggs’ bass runs, capturing theme and forward movement with delightful assertiveness.

“Roi” is a fascinating instrumental mood piece that opens with Josephine’s bass mirroring the declining note pattern of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” without the quadruplet picking and the closing note. The bass is soon surrounded by stereo distortion leading to a rising chord pattern that ends in a stop-time shift of thrilling, dissonant power chords. Kim then enters with the song’s single line: “Raw: where the shot leaves me gagging for the arrow.” After an extended, quieter passage filled with feedback and complementary sound, the bass pattern appears again to lead to a heavier passage linked thematically by that falling note pattern and the return of the dissonant chord set, unifying the composition. A piece that evokes a strange disquiet in the listener, “Roi” has no discernible connection to the French word for “king,” but to the near-homophone raw, as in raw emotion.

The Breeders oscillate between sexy, sweet and heavy on “Do You Love Me Now?” a song co-written by the twins about the lingering feelings many people experience for former partners. I’ve experienced it as the victim of a hanger-on, but never as the one wishin’ and hopin’. Once I sense that there is a disconnection in compatibility or trust, I end it—politely, honestly and firmly. While that has earned me something of a reputation as a cold bitch with former lovers, I’d rather live with that than hanging onto a relationship that’s turning sour. Kim obviously felt differently, going to the extreme of demanding the partner’s return (“C’mon c’mon come back to me right now!). It makes for a great dramatic moment, but I still have a hard time relating to that feeling. Even with my temporary abandonment of emotional intelligence, I still love the song, especially the parts that move forward in slow drive and the choral background voices on the fade.

The song on Last Splash that makes me the happiest is the instrumental “Flipside,” an under-two-minute surf explosion featuring Kelley Deal as Dick Dale and Josephine Wiggs as Nokie Edwards. Kim and Jim keep the rhythms hot, making it impossible for this girl not want to leap up out of her seat and shake her fanny like a high-speed blender. It’s also a great lead-in to the surf-punk sounds of “I Just Wanna Get Along,” a song that many believe is Kim’s big fuck you to Black Francis and Joey Santiago for rejecting her compositions as “half-songs” and “not Pixies.” Perhaps. The Prodigy just thought “I Just Wanna Get Along” was a great dance song that fit into their electronic beat paradigm. I hear the song as an indictment of male ego and couldn’t care less if that male ego belongs to Frank Black. Kudos to Kelley for her attitude-laden lead vocal and co-writing contribution.

In “Mad Lucas,” Kim paints a tone poem about a real historical figure, one James Lucas, the Hermit of Hertfordshire, labeled an “eccentric” in those pre-Freudian days of complete ignorance of mental illness. Apparently Lucas was a well-educated regular guy whose internal wiring malfunctioned after his mother’s death. After waiting three months to bury her (I hope it was winter), he locked himself in his mansion for the rest of his days and allowed no one to touch anything in the house. Without housekeeping, the place became quite a mess, but since Lucas slept naked in an ash heap, he hardly noticed. He did notice that the rats liked the place and hung his food in baskets to protect it. He allowed visitors to speak to him only through an iron grille, which was nice of him, since he didn’t bathe or cut his hair for twenty-five years and wore only an ash-soaked blanket. It is said that seventeen cartloads of dirt were removed from his house after he finally succumbed to apoplexy.

In the song, Kim actually attempts to straighten the guy out, but instead of wasting her time with therapy, says exactly what I . . . well, she took the words right out of my mouth:

Arise, wash your face
From cinder and soot
You’re a nuisance
And I don’t like dirt

The distorted voice, curious sounds and deliberately slow pace reminds me of a couple of songs from the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions, sans the computerized electronics. The music feels deliberately cramped, as if dampened by the caked dust and soot of the madman’s abode. Occasional grating sounds intensify the disconnection from the normal flow of life and the feeling of living in a rusting, rotting residence. Some find “Mad Lucas” strange; personally, I think it’s a brilliant mood piece.

Search all you want through your record collection and you will find few albums that contain back-to-back tracks with greater contrast than that between “Mad Lucas” and “Divine Hammer.” It’s like waking up from a nightmare where you spent twenty-five years in solitary to find yourself suddenly surrounded by bright sunshine, bluebirds and beds of vividly-colored flowers. However, don’t let the power pop cheer of “Divine Hammer” lead you to believe that the song lacks substance. The song is about the frequently disappointing search for something to believe in, allowing those in the know to steer you to organized religion, where you find nothing but air as you squirm in your Sunday school seat:

I’m just looking for a faith
Waiting to be followed
It disappears this near
You’re the rod, I’m water
I’m just looking for one divine hammer

The twins’ lovely harmonizing tends to grab most of your attention, but the rhythm section of MacPerson and Wiggs deserves credit for filling the song with copious amounts of rock energy.

A sewing machine and amped up secret-agent music make for a surprisingly engaging listening experience, as we learn in our second short instrumental interlude, “S. O. S.” I like these little breaks in Last Splash—they’re like an aural version of cleansing one’s palate. This particular break leads us to “Hag,” a song I’ve always interpreted through the long-standing female habit of paying obsessive attention to our appearance, every waking hour. After an energetic night of partying, fucking or whatever girls do to release the repressed energy that has accumulated during the work week, we hit the clubs and party circuits to project our beauty, flash our smiles and do our best to transform the vibes into pure conviviality with our native charm. Then, when the bars close or the passion is spent, we women collapse, pass out or fall into a sweet sleep in a lover’s arms. And the first fucking thing we do when we wake up and drag ourselves to the head for the morning pee, is stop in look in a mirror. “Hag!” we groan as we look at our smushed faces, flaked and smeared make up and ratty hair:

All night, all night, all night
Under the stars, under their light
All over the girl only looks bright

Like a woman
Hag
You’re just like a woman
You’re on again

I then forget about my urgent need to pee and do something about that ugly face and rat’s nest of a hairdo. It’s hard to escape the effects of mass cultural programming.

We’ll leave my first-world problems for another day and . . . head for the fair! If you visit the United States in the summer months, you’ll find gazillions of fairs of all types popping up all over the landscape, including state, county, food-related, church-sponsored, ethnic, Renaissance—the variations are endless. “Saints” captures the essence of the fair experience, whatever the genre. The gritty music with its attitude-drenched vocal reflects the sex-trolling aspect of a stroll through the crowds and the unsentimental attitudes of the carnies in relation to all the fun that surrounds them. Kim uses the lyrics to paint the feel, touch, smell and taste of the event:

I like all the different people
I like sticky everywhere
Look around, you bet I’ll be there!
Hot metal in the sun
Pony in the air
Sooey and saints at the fair

“Sticky everywhere” is a phrase I relate to immediately, because when I think “fair,” my memory fills my nostrils with the scent of cotton candy, toffee apples and caramel corn. It’s not a pleasant memory (I’m not big on sweets, so I go for the corn dogs) but a vivid one, and I would imagine that for an Ohio girl like Kim, “sticky” also describes the humid summer weather of the Midwest. “Saints” rocks with a certain swagger, and passes the Sartrean existential validity test with flying colors.

Now we begin to lope to the finish line with a song from a band that hardly anyone knew existed until The Breeders covered this song. The band went by the name Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, whom AllMusic described as “A quirky folk group who defy an easy placement in genre.”

I’m going to have to check out Ed’s Redeeming Qualities. “Quirky” often means there’s something interesting there that the music industry can’t process.

The song in question, “Drivin’ on 9,” was co-written by ERQ’s co-founder Dom Leone, who died of cancer in the band’s early days. The Breeders got wind of it through ERQ band member Carrie Bradley, who provides violin accompaniment here. A song with clear country and bluegrass connections doesn’t sound like something that would land anywhere near The Breeders’ sweet spot, but Kim plays the role of white trash girl living and longing near the highway as if she’d been singing country all her life (a statement with some truth to it, as one of the first songs she learned on guitar in her pre-teen years was Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”). The band provides solid support, and the decision to ask Carrie Bradley to play the fiddle sealed the deal. While sometimes you laugh at the girl’s predicament, in the end you feel sympathy for the girl and sadness about the hand she’s been dealt—abandoned by a lover and stuck with a daddy who’s unwilling to save the day with a shotgun wedding.

Last Splash ends with a brief reprise of “Roi” and the repetition single line, “Raw: where the shot leaves me gagging for the arrow.” I’m not particularly thrilled about the reprise, as the song follows several pieces that are as far away from “Roi” as you can imagine, so its reappearance seems out-of-the-blue. I think ending Last Splash with “Driving on 9” would have been a much more effective sendoff.

Last Splash is a great album by a group of musicians who absolutely clicked in studio and on stage. While I’m looking forward to the new studio effort, I’m going to make every effort to rid myself of any expectations that the new album will be as good or will even sound like Last Splash. Almost twenty-five years have passed since its release, and over a span of twenty-five years, people change and sometimes even grow. Whatever The Breeders come out with should be considered on its own merits in the context of the 21st century—and even if the new album turns out to be a less-than-satisfying experience, nothing The Breeders do now or in the future will diminish what they accomplished in Last Splash.

Pixies – Doolittle – Classic Music Review

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La la love you, don’t mean maybe. Click to buy.

Ever since I wrote my review of Grand Duchy’s Let the People Speak, I’ve had Pixies on my to-do list. I put them off because I didn’t want to write anything that contradicted the key message in that review: that Let the People Speak is a great album and Pixies fans need to move into the present, let Black Francis be Frank Black and stop trying to relive the first Bush administration and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I haven’t changed my opinion of Let the People Speak one bit, but it’s been almost two years now, and since 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of their most acclaimed work, I’m in the mood for Pixies, and for Doolittle in particular.

Doolittle has achieved iconic status, and my readers know that I have no compunction when it comes to writing blistering reviews about albums that people have been led to believe are the greatest fucking contributions to world culture since oral sex. Tommy. Imagine. Exile on Main Street. Abbey Road. Dark Side of the Moon. Pet Sounds. If an album sucks, I don’t care how many best album lists it’s on or how many prestigious critics have bent over backwards to sing its praises. If I think it sucks, I’ll say so.

In the case of Doolittle, I am delighted to say that it is one of the greatest fucking contributions to world culture. It’s not oral sex, but it’s certainly one of the most exciting, stimulating and intensely satisfying experiences outside of fellatio and cunnilingus. The only downside to Doolittle is that it’s such an energetic and powerful album that it tends to overshadow their two follow-up albums, Bossanova and Trompe le Monde, both of which are exceptional . . . and Surfer Rosa was pretty damned good, too.

Doolittle works on many, many levels. At the core, it rocks, because Pixies had a great rhythm section of Kim Deal and David Lovering to provide a strong foundation, and a terribly underappreciated and gifted lead guitarist in Joey Santiago whose style combined discipline, a collaborative orientation and an exceptional ear for the feel of a song. The songs range from surreal to grungy to punkish to cheeky pop. Doolittle is full of humorous touches, erotic landscapes, biblical references and imaginative leaps. I’ve seen the word “eclectic” used to describe Doolittle, and while I agree in part, the word “eclectic” often has a connotation of disorganized and undisciplined. Doolittle is a remarkably unified work despite its diversity, and the unity comes from a combination of the tightness of the band and their ability to re-create an in-the-moment immediacy that is quite a difficult achievement given the nature of the recording process.

The energy field at the center of it all is Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV, known by the stage name of Black Francis, lead vocalist and primary songwriter. I would never describe Black Francis in the context of Pixies as a “lead singer,” because his vocal style expands far beyond what we know as singing, from wild laughter to punctuated narratives to frantic outcries. It’s also somewhat misleading to call him a “songwriter,” as his subject matter and approach to songwriting during his Pixies years redefined many of our beliefs about what a song is. What I love most about his approach to songwriting is he has the ability to shut off the little censor in his brain and write whatever comes into his head: random impressions, film imagery, scraps of childhood memories, the things going through the head during conversation that would shut down the conversation if you let the words tumble out of your mouth. Some have called the approach surreal or nonsensical (even the writer himself), but once you stop trying to apply rational, grammatical thought to the language, you find that the words sound like the same shit running around in your head, and you have to laugh at the exposure. He writes as if life were a perpetual improv sketch, an approach that gives his lyrics a compelling immediacy. Accentuating the improvisational bent, he’s also a guy that doesn’t like to fuck around in the recording studio, so Pixies music echoes the here-and-now feel of the lyrics.

There are few opening songs in the history of rock albums that have the energy and excitement of “Debaser,” and few songs that make such masterful use of poetic economy. The song is based on imagery from the Buñuel-Dali silent film collaboration Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), fifteen minutes of surrealism full of bizarre, erotic and often disturbing imagery during which no Andalusian canine makes even a whimper. The image Black Francis uses for inspiration is from the opening scene, where a man takes a straight razor to a woman’s eye and slices a neat horizontal slit to release the goo within. Black Francis transplants this image into the head of a modern young man in search of an identity:

got me a movie
I want you to know
slicing up eyeballs
I want you to know
girlie so groovie
I want you to know
don’t know about you
but I am un chien andalusia (4)
wanna grow
up to be
be a debaser, a debaser

The key lines for me are the opening line “got me a movie” and the fifth line, “girlie so groove.” For decades we have had to deal with paranoia from parents and the keepers of social morality concerning the evil influence of the media: in television, in video games and in movies. When I last went to the flicks in the States, I saw the absurd warning that the film I was about to watch was not suitable for children because it featured (gasp!) smoking. Oh, for fuck’s sake. Yes, the reason why I smoke is because I saw Rita Hayworth open that door in Gilda, cigarette in hand, and I had to run out of the theatre immediately, buy a pack of Virginia Slims and light up so I could be as alluring as Rita! Damn that sexy bitch! And they have studies to prove that smoking in movies encourages smoking in youth—studies that completely fail to take into account lousy parenting, self-esteem issues or an infinite number of variables that are at play when humans make choices. Harrumph! People really believe this shit?

Black Francis takes the premise of insidious influence at face value: the hero of our story winds up watching a film loaded with scenes of debasement and claims the film as his own. He has discovered his true calling in one of the officially sanctioned sources of identity: the film industry. Part of the debasement in the film is a sequence where the male lead imagines himself feeling the bare breasts and ass of the heroine, and so our immature hero is encouraged to believe that debasement is as sexy as smoking. It may even be able to get him laid! As the film itself punctures classic paradigms of art and social mores, the ironies here are multi-layered and terribly perceptive.

“Debaser,” like several songs on Doolittle, opens with a bass run from Kim Deal, and I am so good with that. We then hear a set of high-pitched guitar chords before David Lovering kicks in with the drums and Joey Santiago gives us the rather majestic opening guitar riff. Black Francis is in fine form, in a tone somewhere between manic and loopy, perfectly filling the role of an imbalanced kid who’s just made the greatest discovery of his life. He even gets more frantic and intense on the second verse, but the high point of the song is the absurd call-and-response where the band shouts “Chien!” and Black Francis responds with “Andalusia!” in a tone that implies that the credibility of the kid’s new identity is enhanced because his new-found wisdom came from a foreign source. Kim Deal’s spoken echoes and power pop vocalizations of “debaser” are another brilliant enhancement that reinforce the faux sex appeal of debasement, and the blessed drawn-out instrumental ending is the glorious sound of a band in full command of the art of rock ‘n’ roll.

And to any Baby Boomer out there that wants to object to the call-and-response of “Chien!” and “Andalusia!” as silly, I only have one thing to say to you: A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!

“Debaser” is a hard song to follow, but “Tame” fulfills the role by shifting gears into a classic example of Pixies soft-loud dynamics. Kim Deal executes her extra-measure bass line with precision and Black Francis makes an impressive transition from whispering sweet nothings into the ear of a lightweight tease to screams that you might hear emanating from the local neighborhood dungeon. Oh, have I been there—babe’s got the looks, got the bod, picked up a few flirtatious looks (by watching movies, no doubt) but is as lifeless as an inflatable doll in the sack. “Tame” is followed by “Wave of Mutilation,” a fabulous demonstration of the tightness and talent of this marvelous band. Even though the tune is catchy and the metaphor of escaping this fucked up world by riding the waves down to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench is certainly vivid, the band backing Black Francis is so fucking good I just lose myself in the arrangement: David’s varied drum attack, Kim’s thumping bass weaving in and out of focus and the way Joey Santiago can shift from filling the headphones with power chords to bent notes high on the fretboard . . . that’s heaven.

“I Bleed” is even more textured and layered. Kim’s bass is more speaker-rumbling on this one, and when Joey comes in and complements the main riff, the combination is like the opening rounds of a great fuck. Kim and Black Francis then engage in an ear-catching duet where Kim sings a pseudo-melodic line while Black Francis narrates the tale in his role of man of many voices. The bridge is endlessly fascinating, with Joey bending the crap out of those strings, David pounding the drums and Kim engaging in brief bursts of just-before-the-orgasm vocalizations. The musical structure is subtly complex; the first two verses pretty much follow the I-V-I-V pattern, with the chorus repeating the I-IV from F# to C#. In the last verse, musical hell seems to break loose as they abandon the pattern completely, going with a A-C#-Em-F pattern in the verse and adjusting the choral pattern slightly from the F#-C# to F#-D, making use of the classically evil I-VI combination. The effect is both chilling and engrossing, especially when Kim Deal repeats “I Bleed” in a flat narrative tone: a rather surreal soundscape to accompany the absurdly steady flow of blood through our veins.

Black Francis wrote the apparently straight pop song “Here Comes Your Man” in his early teens, and the only reason it’s on Doolittle is because producer Gil Norton really liked the song. While it’s easily the most accessible song on Doolittle, it feels more like pleasant intermission music in the context of the more interesting pieces. Even though the band wasn’t into the song either, you can’t fault their musicianship, and Joey Santiago’s decision to double-track a 12-string Ric with a Telecaster for the main riff was a brilliant innovation, and a nice attempt to make something out of not much. Outside of the chorus, the lyrics aren’t particularly pop-friendly, as they describe winos and hoboes who die in a California earthquake. The video is a hoot, though, as Black Francis doesn’t even try to lip sync and Joey Santiago has this “You have to be kidding” look on his face during the solo:

The middle portion of the album opens with “Dead,” a retelling of the story of David and Bathsheba which Black Francis shapes from memory fragments of his parents’ conversion to evangelical Christianity. The interplay between Joey Santiago and Kim Deal is fabulously edgy and tight, and you have to love the dénouement: “Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper.” This is a beautifully economical version of the original climax of the tale: David plunked Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, then sent Uriah to the battlefield to deliver to a set of orders to the general in charge. The orders put Uriah’s ass on the front lines where, yep, he hit the crapper, big time. Black Francis continues his application of biblical imagery in the brilliant “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” creatively linking the environmental havoc wreaked by mankind to de-evolution. His delivery of the biblical numerology lines is actor-perfect, as if he’s seriously trying to figure out the nonsense (“if man is 5, if man is 5, if man is 5”), and make a tenuous connection (“then the devil is 6, then the devil is 6, then the devil is 6, then the devil is 6, then the devil is 6”) before reaching the inevitable and pointless conclusion like he’s screaming “Eureka!” (“and if the devil is 6, then god is 7, then god is 7, then god is 7”). It only remains for the funereal chorus, “this monkey’s gone to heaven” to seal the fate of blind humanity, oblivious to its self-destruction, seeking solace in superstition.

Next up are two songs I’ve always considered twins, “Mr. Grieves” and “Crackity Jones,” as both are vehicles for Black Francis to demonstrate his elastic vocal abilities. “Mr. Grieves” extends the destruction theme while packing a collage of different musical styles in a little more than two minutes, from the dark and creepy reggae opening passage to a sudden shift to straight rock to a couple of measures of skiffle to a lounge-singer-like crescendo. On “Crackity Jones” he relates his experience with a loony roommate who ranted about Fred Flintstone and other voices “he receives on his set.” The tension in the situation is heightened by blazing guitar support from Joey Santiago, whose pick hand moves with astonishing velocity while his fingers make subtle chord adjustments to accentuate the dark note counterpoint, like you’re experiencing the buzz in Jose Jones’ brain. Both songs are remarkably original and reinforce the perception that Pixies were never shy about taking risks.

Another quality on display throughout Doolittle is their essential playfulness, masterfully demonstrated on “La La Love You,” one of the few songs that can always bring a smile to my face no matter how shitty the day was or how grumpy I am from the month’s menstrual cycle. Here they turn the love song genre on its head with wolf whistles, deliberately trite lyrics, a background filled with vocal bouquets of “I love you” and clever asides like “first base, second base, third base, home run!” David Lovering gets a rare shot at a vocal and nails it like a B-side 50’s rock crooner trying hard to add feeling to lyrics we’ve heard a million times before: “All I’m saying/pretty baby/la la love you/don’t mean maybe.” The “la la” is filler within filler, satirizing the stunningly limited range of vocabulary in most love songs. I mean, really, the combination of the wolf whistle followed by the deep genital satisfaction heard in the voicing of “yeah” pretty much says it all. Love songs are often sanitized expressions of ancient courting rituals, full of lame suggestiveness and completely divorced from the reality of a sexually permissive age. The underlying message of most love songs is really, “Goddamn I want to fuck the living shit out of you,” so why do we insist on literally beating around the bush? “La La Love You” is also musically interesting, with the rhythm following a 4/4, 4/4, 2/4 pattern that avoids dead space. The music is disciplined simplicity that never detracts from the humor that reverberates through the piece.

The same rhythmic pattern can be found in “Number 13 Baby,” with an extra 4/4 measure thrown in before the 2/4 shift. This is one of sexier numbers on Doolittle, describing a young Black Francis’ encounter with Latino gang culture in L. A. via a pig roast where a dark-eyed beauty brings the spice and “grandma brought some songs from the shore.” The babe has #13 tattooed on her tit, doubtless a gang-related insignia, and Black Francis appropriately places her on a puberty-heightened pedestal. The story captures the compelling fascination of a young boy discovering another use of his penis and experiencing a multitude of exotic sensations, both cultural and sexual. The band echoes those sensations with a seductive bass line from Kim Deal and a frantic edginess from Joey Santiago’s guitar. It’s followed by the minimalist “There Goes My Gun,” a song where the meaning is found in the passive construction of the phrase, “there goes my gun,” as if the shooter has no responsibility at all for shooting. The song ends abruptly and leads right into “Hey,” where we return to biblical themes, this time expressing the bible-induced fear and loathing that interferes with wanting to connect with a woman . . . because in the Bible, all women are evil temptresses:

hey
been trying to meet you
hey
must be a devil between us
or whores in my head
whores in my bed

Well, we are temptresses, but guys, it’s for your own good! Clear the shit out of your head and let’s fuck! Despite the biblical imagery, “Hey” is another hot song, moving from soft to loud and back again, featuring marvelous interplay between Kim and Joey and some very subtle cymbal work from David Lovering. Kim Deal’s counterpoint vocals are simple and terribly effective, adding just the right amount of diversity to the mix.

Kurt Cobain argued that Kim Deal should have had more air time on Pixies’ records, and while I’m not sure that Kim and Black Francis had compatible artistic visions, “Silver” is one of the best supporting arguments for Cobain’s case. A slow dirge in 3/4 time, the song features eerie harmonies, Kim’s dissonant runs on lap steel guitar, bursts of distorted bends from Joey Santiago and David Lovering playing a simple steady bass. “Silver” comes across as a funereal song for a doomed, materialistic society, fitting nicely into the theme of human self-destruction covered in “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Mr. Grieves.”

Doolittle ends with the imaginative retelling of the Samson and Delilah story, “Gouge Away.” Echoing back to the “sliced eyeballs” in “Debaser” with the line “you spoon my eyes,” the irony of the song comes not through the biblical themes but in the ability to transfer the experience described in the chorus into something more pleasurable:

gouge away
you can gouge away
stay all day
if you want to

Before I knew about the Samson and Delilah backstory, I always interpreted those lines as “gouging my fingernails into his back while we’re fucking.” While I confess to having a hyperactive libido, “Gouge Away” is undeniably a very sexy song, driven by a slinky bass part, Joey Santiago’s power chords and Black Francis’ erotically-tinged vocal. What I really find marvelous is that Doolittle ends with a song as rich as all the others in terms of lyrical depth and musical interest.

I was only five years old when Pixies’ demo album, Come on Pilgrim, was released to the public, and by the time I hit puberty, they were no more. I discovered them through my passion for historical connection: Nirvana was all the rage at the time and Kurt Cobain identified Pixies as a major influence on their sound, so I decided to check it out. The album that caught my eye at Tower Records on Columbus and Bay was Trompe le Monde, because I thought it was terribly cool that an American band would use my second language in an album title. From there, I worked backwards to Surfer Rosa, and Pixies music became a constant companion. Pixies fans can (and do) debate which album is their best, but it hardly matters: all of their records are worth hearing again and again. Doolittle has been repeatedly described as influential, and I only wish it had been more so. I think the artists who were influenced may have copied some of the techniques, but I don’t think anyone has come close to matching the in-the-moment bursts of creative brilliance so delightfully apparent on Doolittle.

If you’re interested, here’s Un Chien Andalou. The eyeball is sliced in the opening sequence. Chien! Andalusia!

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