The Pixies were an important band for me. When I was a teenager I listened to their songs over and over again. But I always wondered why they were so important to me and that’s a question I struggled to come up with an answer for. This always plagued me. Because there is no doubt that there is no other band like The Pixies but what do I love about them so fervently? Why did The Pixies, unlike a lot of other bands, put out records with not one bad song on them?
Well, today I’m going to review the Pixies album Doolittle and hopefully in this review I can answer some of those questions I asked myself in my adolescents.
I once introduced a friend to the Pixies. I played him some of my favorite songs and after we had enjoyed there music he said something that still sticks with me, he said, “Well, Where Is My Mind is there best song”.
Doolittle is a seminal album from The Pixies. It was released in 1989 and featured some of the best and some of the most popular Pixies songs ever, also Where Is My Mind is noticeably absent. The bulk of the lyrics on this album were written by Black Francis, the lead singer and rhythm guitar player of The Pixies, with the exception of Silver, which was co-written by Francis Black and Kim Deal, the bassist.
Without getting into too much of the content of this album, the lyrics are one of my favorite parts of The Pixies’ music.
If you examine Debaser, the first song on the album, you get to see how much depth Black Francis’ lyrics bring to the music. In the song Francis references a 15-minute experimental film made by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, Un Chien Andalou. During the song Francis shouts “I want you to know, I don’t know about you, but I am Un Chien Andalousia” (Black changed Analou to Andalousia because he thought it sounded better in the song) This coupled with Francis singing about how when he grows up he wants to be a “debaser” tells you what kind art you are experiencing while listening to this album. With this opening song, Black Francis and The Pixies make a strong commitment to identifying themselves as Avant-Garde artists.
When you look at the lyrics of Wave of Mutilation Francis Black turns the record into a different direction. In this song Black turns suicide into a sort of pseudo-spiritual quest. He sings, “You Think I’m dead, but I sail away, On a wave of mutilation.” By describing death as not something to fear but a sort of freedom from this life, he picks back up on that theme of Avant-Garde art.
This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven is another song with great lyrics. The bridge of that song will live in my head until the day I die. “If Man is five, if Man is five, If Man is five then the Devil is six, then the Devil is six, and if the Devil is six then God is seven, then God is seven, then God is seven.” This arrangement of Man, The Devil, and God in ascending order; I really don’t know exactly what it means, but it speaks to me and it has stuck with me.
And Gouge Away. The audacity and attitude of the chorus, which is apparently a reference to Samson, the biblical figure, is something special. When Francis sings “Gouge Away, you can gouge away, stay all day, if you want to.” Not only can you notice the biblical reference but it also makes you think about a past love and how you would happy with them gouging away, all day.
The other side of the coin to any pop group/musician is the music, and this is a little more difficult to explain than the lyrics, especially with the Pixies. And don’t be mistaken; The Pixies are a pop outfit, despite just how experimental they are.
The Pixies are a band that has a very unique sound. It’s wonky and erratic yet melodic and sweet. On Mr. Grieves you get an intro with almost skeletal sounding guitar strumming and then as the song picks up the guitar turns fun and the bass and drums play along and the horror inspired melody is twisted into this sort of backwards-pop song.
Hey exemplifies The Pixies musical aesthetic. In the first verse the bass and lead guitar meld together in this R&B type groove, which isn’t very typical for The Pixies. But the song is so minimalist, which is typical of The Pixies so the groove just works. The interplay between Francis and Deal’s vocals just contrasts beautifully and also in this song, Deal’s bass is the backbone of the melody so much so that it is almost the lead instrument.
On Tame we get just a hooky baseline set up to be contrasted with Black’s screaming and Joey Santiago’s (lead guitarist) screeching melody. In this song we get a bunch of ingredients that, musically, don’t usually work, but when played by The Pixies they make a hit song.
So after all of this work, listening to these tracks a hundred times over, pouring over the lyrics, researching the history of the band, I still don’t know why The Pixies are so important to me. I probably gave ten different reasons over the course of this review but I don’t think that any of them can serve as catchall reason that explains why The Pixies are a special band. And when someone tells you that Where Is My Mind is the best Pixies song after listening to their music for five fucking seconds and you listen to this record and all of their other records, including Surfa Rosa, the record that features Where Is My Mind, just remember think of how silly a thing that is to say about this band.