Tag Archives: Pixies

Pixies – Surfer Rosa – Classic Music Review

Nice tits.

What’s striking about those tits is that they look perfectly natural. Having recently studied the history of modern porn from the first issue of Playboy to the present, I have concluded that tits have gone through three phases of development:

  • The Natural Phase: Tits as determined by genes inherited from mom, dad or the mailman
  • The Inflated Phase: Tits rounded out and inflated due to the extra shots of estrogen and progesterone in birth control pills
  • The Bimbo Phase: Large and “perfectly” shaped tits fashioned by saline or silicone implants

I developed this taxonomy of tits after spending an afternoon with my hardcore lesbian cousin and her multi-gigabyte collection of adult female porn. Her collection is carefully curated and organized, so I asked her to organize her pics by date of publication so we could view changes in tit development over time. The chronology clearly shows that the natural tits of Betty Page and Marilyn Monroe started to give way to inflated tits in 1966, and other than the occasional sop to small-tit connoisseurs, hormone-enhanced tits dominated the pictorials from that point on. Fake tits entered the picture in the ’80s, but consistent “perfection” would elude plastic surgeons until the 21st century. It’s obvious when you look at some pornstars from the ’90s that their saline bags have gravitated towards the nipple, resulting in a look my cousin defined as “tit sausage (nichons de saucisse).” Recent porn is dominated by the bimbo look, marked by perfectly round, gigantic tits accompanied by fat-augmented lips that make women look more like circus clowns than sex kittens.

But I digress.

We agreed that natural and hormone-enhanced tits were the most pleasing to the eye, and that breast augmentation/reconstruction should be reserved for the unfortunate women who have had to undergo mastectomies. I don’t think our joint opinion will have any impact on the tit-building industry because modern cultures have made tits a commodity, and “bigger is better” dominates the field just like extra-large cokes and super-sized fries. The Mayo Clinic suggests that breast augmentation “might help you improve your self-confidence,” and when a respected institution like The Mayo Clinic argues that a purely cultural bias is a valid reason for a medical procedure, it should tell you that tits are an important revenue stream in the health care field.

The “self-confidence” selling point arises from two sources. It’s validating when a woman walks into a night club and causes heads to turn—and nothing draws a man’s attention as effectively as a respectable rack. But unbeknownst to most men, women pay just as much attention to racks as men do—and I’m not just talking about gay women. Women are always checking out each other to see how they “stack up” in comparison. Somehow, shelling out serious bucks to own a better rack than your girlfriend builds “self-confidence.” Natural tits have become passé in our totally fucked-up world.

Yes, but what the fuck does all this tit play have to do with Pixies?

Glad you asked! In preparation for this review, I listened to three commercially successful records from the ’80s:

  • Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears
  • The Stone Roses
  • So by Peter Gabriel

All these albums (and many more ’80s recordings) are marked by the sound of drums enhanced through gated reverb to give the music a more cinematic wide-field sound. It is one of the distinguishing features of ’80s music (along with cheesy-sounding synthesizers). Those horrid production values led me to define the ’80s as a decade largely marked by fake sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Huh. U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” just popped into my head. I wonder why.

Anyway, when the Pixies opened their first full-length studio album with David Lovering and the sound of natural drums, it represented am emphatic rejection of the sleek and slick sounds of ’80’s music. Like the Punk Revolution, Pixies music represented a return to the rough-and-rowdy, bursting-with-energy essence of rock ‘n’ roll. Combined with Steve Albini’s raw production and the trademark soft-LOUD dynamics, the Pixies’ approach to music would have an enormous influence on a diverse group of musicians who would dominate the scene in the ’90s—Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, etc.

It should be noted that none of the four artists mentioned in the previous paragraph came close to duplicating the absurdist humor in Pixies songs (Cobain came the closest). At first listen, Black Francis’ songwriting style seems like undisciplined stream-of-consciousness, but it’s really more like the output of an accomplished improv actor: the words that come out of his head feel spontaneous but are nearly always tied to a palpable theme. He seems to start with a germ of an idea—a word, a location, an experience—and takes it wherever it leads him without allowing the censor to block the idea’s natural growth.

Opening with that thrilling sound of natural percussion, “Bone Machine” proceeds to give each member a turn in the spotlight, with Kim Deal hot on Lovering’s heels with a memorable bass run reflecting her preference for old strings that strips unwanted treble and brightness from the bottom. Joey Santiago enters with a decidedly nasty guitar riff over which we hear Black Francis shouting, “This is a song for Carol.” The structure and delivery of the song defy convention: the verses are narrated; the bridge features a melody that tracks the bass pattern as Francis and Kim sing in unison; what passes for a chorus is delivered in loose harmony and stop time. “It’s a song about fucking”, Kim Deal said in the documentary Pixies – On the Road, standing up to demonstrate the movement of a woman’s pelvis during a fuck (the bone machine is the “thing” that makes the pelvis go). Carol apparently has a bone machine working on overdrive and all she has to show for it is a case of herpes:

You’re into Japanese fast food
And I drop you off with your Japanese lover
And you’re going to the beach all day
You’re so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me
You so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me

You’re looking like
You’ve got some sun
Your blistered lips
Have got a kiss
They taste a bit like everyone

Uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh
Your bone’s got a little machine

The second verse represents a leap through memory association, harkening back to an incident involving a different bone machine, one belonging to a pedophile pastor:

I was talking to preachy-preach about kissy-kiss
He bought me a soda
He bought me a soda
He bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot
Yep, yep yep yep

The concept of a “bone machine” highlights the disconnection between the sexual organs and the part of the brain that exercises judgment. Carol fucks like a rabbit, the narrator gets turned on by her unfaithfulness, the pastor can’t control his repressed libido. In the last verse, the cause of attraction is brown skin that we assume differs from the narrator’s, hinting at the age-old truth that forbidden fruit amplifies attraction because it is forbidden. Attraction is a complex, often mysterious dynamic, but if there’s a takeaway here, it’s something like “know who you’re fucking and why you’re fucking, or . . . uh-oh.”

Pixies are by definition mischievous, and Francis often likes to play the role of a loser, allowing the character to present their loser behavior with a minimum of judgment. Being true to the character makes the point far more effectively than giving us a sermon on the evils of whatever weird shit the loser comes up with. The character in “Break My Body” is an extreme self-destructive type, an honest-to-goodness masochist who repeatedly dares life to pile on the pain. This creature breaks down doors, (probably) fucks mom, and leaps from building to building just for the hell of it. The most controversial line is typically rendered as “I’m a belly dancer/I’ll shake forever and I’ll never care,” but what I hear (and validated by user Blue Grenade on Genius Lyrics) is “I’m a belly dancer/I’ll shake for Arabs and I’ll never care.” The latter makes more sense, especially if you avoid the mistake of viewing it through a post 9/11 lens (and yes, there are male belly dancers). My take is that the song is about how people revel in their own victimization, but as blog critic Gordon Hauptfleisch concluded, what really matters is “It has a good beat and you can run a record store to it.” Two minutes of percussion-driven overdrive, distorted guitar pushing the edges of dissonance, unrestrained vocals from Francis and Kim Deal . . . then the sudden switch to muffled guitar, the drums now front and center to support the vocal duet, then—drop-dead silence. While they certainly took an unusual build path to get there, that closing passage raises the tension to the nth degree like that moment in the horror flick when the idiot is about to open the door that no one in their right mind would open and then . . . tune in next week for the thrilling finale! Arrgh! Whether “Break My Body” is the prototypical Pixies song (as Mr. Hauptfleisch argued) is good fodder for a barroom debate, but I’ll say this: I can’t imagine any other band on the planet coming up with a song quite like it.

The Pixies were given ten days to record and wrap up the album, but they got down to business and pretty much finished Surfer Rosa in a week. That left them lots of time to mess around with “experimental stuff basically to kill time.” As true in music as it is in science, some experiments work and some don’t. For “Something Against You,” Albini ran Black Francis’ vocal through a guitar amp to achieve a “totally ragged, vicious texture.” I suppose some sort of backhanded congratulations are in order, for the vocal is certainly ragged, but a.) it’s impossible to make out the words because b.) the mix doesn’t separate the vocal enough from the already ragged background featuring a combination of detuned rhythm guitar and high-distortion lead/rhythm. The lyrics consist of one line repeated several times and a closing shot: “I’ve got something against you/Oh yeah, I am one happy prick,” a wonderfully economic statement on the human tendency to take pleasure from resentment. I just think it would have been better if Francis had shaped it into a haiku and delivered the vocal from some misty mountain top.

“Broken Face” is one of the more punk-oriented pieces on the album, burning hot, hard and fast as it rips through its tale of incest in about a minute-and-a-half. The narrator seems to be the defective result of a multi-generational orgy within the family (“There was this boy who had two children with his sisters/They were his daughters/They were his favorite lovers), and at first I thought Black Francis’ imitation of the disabled kid’s speech mannerisms was rather cruel. It took me a while to shift blame to the senseless idiots who sired the kid, and though I’m still not entirely comfortable with the piece, I love the ass-kicking noise of it all.

Kurt Cobain loved Pixies music and fully acknowledged their influence, but his admiration did not prevent him from lodging a complaint with management: “I wish Kim was allowed to write more songs for the Pixies because ‘Gigantic’ is the best Pixies song and Kim wrote it.” Well, no . . . not quite. Here’s the real story as related by Kim Deal’s then-husband John Murphy in Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies:

MURPHY: Charles [“Black Francis”] came up with the riff, but he wasn’t really sure what the lyrics were going to be, so he goes, “Eh, well, Kim, why don’t you take a shot at it? The only thing I know is that I want to call it ‘Gigantic’,” and she says, “Fine.” So she comes home with it and she’s playing it on the guitar and I said, “Gigantic, okay, maybe it’s about a big mall.” She goes, “Okay, let’s try that for a while,” and I’m like, “The mall, the mall, let’s have a ball.” So I wrote that. It changed to “Hey, Paul”, because it had to rhyme. And then, a couple of days later she had fixated on this Sissy Spacek movie Crimes of the Heart about this farmworker, I think he’s a black guy, and Sissy Spacek and this farmworker get together – so that’s what it’s about. An illicit love affair.

While Kurt didn’t have the whole backstory, I do agree with his sentiments, but I would have lodged a slightly different complaint—something like, “Hey, guys, are you trying to force Kim out of the band or what?” As things turned out, Kim’s presence on Pixies albums would never come close to her near omnipresence on Surfer Rosa, where she sang lead, harmony or unison on a majority of tracks. She would only get one half-credit for songwriting on Doolittle (“Silver”) and zero on the last two Pixies efforts. When the guys rejected her original compositions as “not Pixies songs,” she formed The Breeders, in turn reducing her commitment to Pixies, in turn leading to a lot of bad juju, yada, yada, yada.

There are different mixes of “Gigantic” (the Albini version on the album, the Gil Norton version on the single), so feel free to choose one that suits your tastes. For me, the mix doesn’t matter all that much, as what draws my attention and twiddles my diddle is Kim’s vocal. There’s a wickedness in her voice as she anticipates that “hunk of love” drilling into her sweet spot (“Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul, let’s have a ball”); her voice shifts to unbridled ecstasy as he delivers the goods:

Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic
A big, big love

Though I think large dongs are highly overrated and I can’t stand chick flicks, “Gigantic” never fails to thrill me.

The flip side of the “Gigantic” single was “River Euphrates,” also remixed by Norton. While the lyrics are clearer and the sound cleaner on the single, I have a strong preference for the album version for two reasons: one, Joey Santiago’s introduction is deliciously dissonant on the album, and somewhat “straightened out” on the single; and two, the “ride, ride, ride” vocals on the album sound sweeter and more natural. You’ll notice that Kim has to catch her breath a couple of times within the phrase, something that technically qualifies as poor breath control but is oh-so human (go ahead and try to duplicate the vocal and home to appreciate its difficulty). I just love how Black Francis’ mind works: “Oh, I’m out of gas in the middle of the Gaza strip, but let’s just put that jack to work, grab a couple of tires and float down the Euphrates!” No obstacle is insurmountable for Charles Michael Kitteridge Thompson IV!

“Where Is My Mind?” builds on a question you commonly pose to yourself when you forget to . . . don’t recognize . . . fuck things up . . . have a brain fart. “Okay,” you say, “But what’s the song about?” Black Francis explained exactly how I would have explained it, so rather than plagiarize, I shall cite this quotation I found on Shmoop:

I can’t explain it to you; I just think the song is likable. Even though Kim barely sings on it, there’s something about her singing that little haunting two-note riff. The same thing with Joey, he’s got a little two-note thing going on too. It’s so simple, and then there’s me in the middle singing the wacky cute little lyrics. So it’s kind of a quintessential Pixie song. It sort of displays everyone’s personalities. The song has something very likable about it and I’m not sure what it is.

Certain songs just make you feel good. You can identify the components that contribute to the “feel good” vibe of “Where Is My Mind?” (major key, minor chords used to strengthen melodic flow before returning to an uplifting major chord to finish the phrase, sufficient variation without going overboard, nice swaying beat, the stick-in-your-head two-note patterns described above, the relaxed execution), but getting the right ingredients doesn’t always result in a dish that wows the dinner party. According to standard pop formulae, “Where Is My Mind?” shouldn’t make you feel good because the lyrical lines are imbalanced and there isn’t a single rhyme in the mix. I think the key here is in the magic of the four different musical personalities, each making a distinctive contribution to a satisfying whole. At their best, Pixies are just fucking fun to listen to.

We now return to the catalog of life’s losers, and the ultimate loser in any society usually winds up in prison sooner or later unless they’re white and have enough money to float bail and afford a crack legal team. We don’t know what he’s done to earn the time, but we find the loser in “Cactus” sitting on the cement floor of his not-so-cozy bungalow bemoaning separation from his squeeze. The strong, steady thumping beat and dark minor-key guitar distortion form a background that reflects a feverish obsession, and in a voice that sounds like the whimper of a man breaking down from the experience of enforced isolation, Black Francis informs us that our anti-hero’s obsession has to do with a specific piece of apparel:

Sitting here wishing on a cement floor
Just wishing that I had just something you wore
I’d put it on when I go lonely
Will you take off your dress and send it to me?

The italics (mine) serve to identify Kim’s flashes of vocal harmony that appear in the closing words to each verse, one of those little touches in a song that make all the difference in the world (enter “Count Basie Theory” in the site search box for more information). The expressed desire to wear her dress (rather than stuff it under his pillow for a comforting beddie-bye scent) gives me the impression that the man may have been tagged to serve as the female partner in one of those prison shower romances, and Kim’s spot vocal tacked onto the narration reinforces that impression. It’s obvious that the guy is desperately trying to hold onto his heterosexuality (“I miss your kissin’ and I miss your head”) but the paranoia induced by isolation consistently leads him to worst-case-scenario thinking (“And a letter in your writing doesn’t mean you’re not dead”). The last request to his long-lost love can be interpreted as the ravings of a sicko, a plea for proof that she is still among the living or the cry of an overwrought man with an unfathomable desire to experience intimacy at the cellular level:

Bloody your hands on a cactus tree
Wipe it on your dress and send it to me

While “Cactus” lacks a proper chorus, the verses are the most conventionally-structured poetry on Surfer Rosa, with an AABB rhyme scheme. While I think that sop to tradition makes the song more accessible, our anti-hero is unlikely to evoke much sympathy from lock-’em-up Americans. Here’s a tip for those of you who have an empathy deficit: on your next vacation, head to the great city of Philadelphia, skip the Independence Hall hoo-hah and drop by the Eastern State Penitentiary. Look long and hard at the prison cells, and try to remind yourself of Phil Ochs’ admonition: “There but for fortune go you or I.”

We move on to the much lighter “Tony’s Theme,” marked by Kim Deal’s loaded-with-naive-high-schoolish-enthusiasm vocal intro and don’t-fuck-with-me lead guitar from Joey Santiago. Tony is the master of bicycling, racing and popping wheelies; the card in his spokes identifies Tony as a future wannabe Harley owner. Beneath the daredevil façade, he’s a good boy who always remembers to mow the lawn after school, a tidbit that seriously diminishes his hero status. It’s followed by the title track that is not a title track but does contain the only reference to Surfer Rosa: the Spanish-language bash, “Oh My Golly.” Opening with David Lovering’s emphatic attack on the toms (natural, of course), the song forms a celebration of a whirlwind Caribbean romance where the narrator and Surfer Rosa make out and get drunk (besando, chichando) under the Caribbean moon. The heart-thumping nature of the erotic experience is accentuated by high speed and truncated measures that intensify the out-of-control passion incited by Surfer Rosa (see tit pic above).

“Vamos” is a different take of a song that appeared on Come On Pilgrim, featuring an opening verse in Spanish where the narrator is considering the option of moving in with his sister in New Jersey, who has told him about the great life in the upscale burbs (very rich, very cool)—the East Coast preppy version of the American Dream:

We’ll keep well-bred
We’ll stay well-fed
We’ll have our sons
They will be all well hung

They’ll come and play
Their friends will say
“Your daddy’s rich
Your mamma’s a pretty thing”

The lines can also be interpreted through the lens of incest, but I think it’s equally plausible to interpret the “in-breeding” hinted at here as something involving social class and not brother and sister (old money and the trophy wife). That interpretation is reinforced by the man’s classic fascination with the hot Spanish maid, the upper-class fantasy extraordinaire. The sister’s expressed frustration that “I keep getting friends/Looking like lesbians” tells us that her enclave may be too preppy for their tastes and that they might have more luck in the less rigid but still superficial upper-class life in California. Lots of drive, noise and exuberance in this piece, with Joey Santiago’s random guitar attacks standing out.

“I’m Amazed” begins with Kim Deal telling her mates a real-life story about how a coach with a thing for field hockey players mysteriously disappeared from campus. That kind of story would draw a lot more publicity today, and somewhere in the coverage, someone who knew the pervert would shake their head and say, “I’m amazed.” Oh, bullshit. You knew something was going on and chose to ignore it. The same is true of the three incidents mentioned in the song proper—all create some form of “amazement,” but none are really all that amazing except to those who have their heads up their asses. The fascinating aspect of the music comes from the Francis-Deal vocal duet that falls somewhere between call-and-response and a half-hearted attempt at a round—chaotic and very effective.

Surfer Rosa closes hot with the blues-tinged raucousness of “Brick Is Red.” The duet that stands out here is the interplay between Santiago and Lovering in the extended intro where both men are ripping and bashing like there’s no tomorrow. The vocal duet featuring Francis and Deal ain’t half bad either, with Kim randomizing her harmonic splashes to arbitrarily highlight words and phrases that may or may not have significant meaning. Though the poetry may not make “sense,” the image of eyes turning the color of diamond—“just the color,” “the frayed color of ice”—forms a picture that is both alluring and repulsive.

What struck me most when re-engaging with Surfer Rosa is how fresh it sounds thirty-two years after its release. The feeling of spontaneity, the direct and indirect humor, the sheer excitement of the musicians as they create a novel approach to rock music—all these come through soft, LOUD and clear. It’s one of those rare albums that expand the listener’s perspective without crossing the line into pretension, and even with its occasional forays into the so-called dark aspects of the human personality, Surfer Rosa leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just had one helluva good time.

Pixies – Doolittle – Classic Music Review

pixies_doolittle1

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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