Artist: The Pixies                                     Release Date: 1988
Label: Rough Trade / 4AD                                       Running time: 32m 42s

Black Francis - Guitar, Vocals
David Lovering - Drums
Joey Santiago - Guitar
Mrs. John Murphy (Kim Deal) - Bass, Vocals
Engineered & Produced by Steve Albini 1

Musical Context :

      If you have ever heard how oddly creepy Black Francis got on their first demo, or later crooning through the yodelled notes of Caribou like he is some lost, hysterical ghost, then the issue of how exactly the Pixies ever ended up on an ether-goth label like 4AD might make a bit more sense, all feedback & rocking out aside. As one critic noted, the Pixies are just remarkably fun - “ fun as a band whose frontman has a peculiar worldview centering around Spanish babbling, Dali films, and ritual mutilation can possibly be.” All true, expect he forgot the fixation on religious themes and UFOs. It sounds sort of California Gothic, several years before anyone would have felt obliged to try to cash in on such a notion. The members were all very young, so they still tapped into a certain raw, zig-zag speed-metal punked-out faux-Latino madness, which I think you could only probably have pulled off in the wasteland of the late 80s music scene (Steve Winwood, Rick Astley and the Beach Boys were the toppers that summer). However, this is not to imply all was lost. Sonic Youth, Sinead O`Connor and Jane`s Addiction also had great releases that summer - it was just no one seemed sadly to notice immediately. Billy Ocean was still recording hit singles after all, and every radio station in the universe insisted on actually playing the effing things. Even notoriously cranky Brits like New Music Express and Q were floored: “I can't really remember when I last heard a music with this degree of lazy evil injected into it...the Wonderful & Frightening World of the Pixies ends up forcing Anglos to put their own world-view through agonizing reappraisal.” Well said; the Pet Shop Boys and George Micheal had really been just about enough...

What’s it sound like though?

      Well I can tell you one, the lyrics make absolutely no real coherent sense - though sex & death figure prominently. You can take the sort of free-associative, semi-psychotic punk ramblings of Black as genius or wacked-out, heavily medicated delusion: either way, the style is what will either sell you on this or shut it down. The songs are all short and punchy, and if amped-up college rock post-punk never was your thing, you might want to let this ship sail alone. For, truth be told, it is loud, screamy and aggro as all get out, and the warblings of Black go with the amped-up guitar like houses on fire. Albini certainly keeps the cacophonic elements of the band, like the feedback and background screeching vocals, squarely under the spotlight, making this a far less "easy" album than say Doolittle or Bossanova (which were comparatively mellow) or Trompe Le Monde (which was like a return to form). Overall, the record, clocking it at just over a half hour, listens like a really too fast supply run in your older brother`s super-charged muscle car, leaving ribbons of rubber at every intersection, on a sweltering summer evening ... or maybe the first time you ever slowly walked up the driveway of a very loud, spilled-out-onto-the lawn, people on the roof sort of party and got butterflies tweaking your stomach and an infectious grin for your troubles. Either way, it sounds vaguely like youth gone utterly wild. If only for a long shimmery summer break.

Say, for the sake of argument, I love the record? What else might I try?

      4AD wisely did a single disc re-release with Surfer Rosa and the Come On Pilgrim demo EP material from 1987, which is just as contagiously crazed as the full-length which followed, with the mania of “Tired” or “Levitate Me” being perfectly pinned little samples of guitar-jagged oomph. That's the disc I'm working off here (so be forewarned if you come across an older copy, which likely won't have the extras). The Throwing Muses were doing something similar a couple of years later on The Real Ramona, with Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly pulling-off another giddy musical rollercoaster, with songs like Honeychain and Not Too Soon. You should really have that record too if you find yourself singing along to this one. Finally, if they haven`t all been deleted, seems to me the Lido and Imaginary Friend records by the Faith Healers UK (ca. 1991) also has this same pent-up-and-release cathartic rock-out feel, so you might try that as well ("Heartfog" is an amazing bit of work). Oh, and Hüsker Dü, Candy Apple Grey (I think) sounds to me to have a nice affinity with this record as well...

The Songs:
1. Bone Machine - 3:02       ~ A rattling screamer right from the outset, this one has betrayal, japanese fast food, parking lots, and a choral admission of pure lust, all with warpath drumming and seismic guitar - ‘... I was talking to Preachy Preach about Kissy-Kiss! ...‘ ~
2. Break My Body - 2:05       ~ if they we not actually trying to do a boarding song here, with bleached images of half-pipes and nasty bails dancing in their heads, then some geezer from the Animal Chin videos should sue - ‘... ...‘ ~
3. Something Against You - 1:47       ~ not unlike Planet of Sound, we have the drums and guitar struggling to keep up with the frenetic energy of Black - ‘... ...‘ ~
4. Broken Face - 1:30       ~ so effing Fight Club it is kinda silly it never showed up, the band is getting so collectively manic here as they rattle through the chorus the song even ends like a suckerpunch - ‘... ...‘ ~
5. Gigantic - 3:54       ~ More guitar caterwaulling here than you can shake a stick at, sounds like they might be playing this number from inside an aluminium culvert, but Deal delievers a fantastic vocal performance - ‘... ...‘ ~
6. River Euphrates - 2:33       ~ this one is absolute genius: they sound like a band of punk cheerleaders on crystal-meth at a drunken midnight drag race (oh wait, they are!), and Frank really gets to screaming a lot on this track - ‘...Dead Sea make you float / Dead Sea make you choke ...‘ ~
7. Where Is My Mind? - 3:53      ~ I think one could make the argument this is one of the better songs about the endemic psychological problems of lycanthropy2, as well as featuring Frank Blank at his oblique, non-sequitest, propelled by a fantastic guitar riff and the eerie, contagious background howl - ‘...your head will collapse, but there's nothing in it, and you ask yourself...‘ ~
8. Cactus - 2:16       ~ here we have the gang at their noirest, reading like a Jim Thompson novel compressed into a slow, methodic drip - ‘ out there, in the desert heat / get your dress all wet, and send it to me ...‘ ~
9. Tony's Theme - 1:52       ~ they are, one suspects, being deliberately cutsie-camp and getting all B-52s, as an excuse to pull off some truly, obnoxiously, screaming surf-rock (like they need an excuse) - ‘... TONY! TONY! TONY! ...‘ ~
10. Oh My Golly - 1:47       ~ Polish off l`espagnol porque los hermanos esta loco (and with swearing in Spanish, imagine!) - ‘...Besando chichando con surfer Rosa ...‘ ~
11. You Fucking Die! I Said... - :47       ~ God only knows what they`re on about here, sounds like Frank and Kim sharing a moment ~
12. Vamos - 4:18       ~ If this song, featuring lesbians and California, is not wholly based on Maggie & Hopey, then someone is in some serious denial - ‘...Vamos a jugar por la playa / Vamos a jugar por la playa ...‘ ~
13. I'm Amazed - 1:42       ~ theys being all weird here, beyond weird - ‘...there were rumours he was into field hockey players ...‘ ~
14. Brick Is Red - 2:00       ~ a strange wind-down - ‘... one side is hot / the other side`s not ...‘ ~
15. Caribou - 3:14       ~ an unremittingly shining finale - ‘... this human form /where I was born / I now repent / CARIBOOOOOOOOOOU! ...‘ ~

1 Two years after the record release, when “Big Black” Albini had moved onto his next big project, Nirvana and called Surfer Rosa "a patch-work pinch loaf from a band at their top dollar best, blandly entertaining college rock."
2 Certainly a little more subtle than that Sting number, Moon Over Bourbon Street, at least, out around the same time. Then again, Gordie "...packed like lemmings into shy-knee me-tal bo-oxes..." Sumner is not exactly renowned for the unbearable lightness of his imagery.

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