Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June 3: The Pixies, "Doolittle"

Artist: The Pixies
Year: 1989
Label: 4AD/Elektra

As we've previously discussed with bands like Throwing Muses and Sonic Youth, Boston, MA may very well be the most underrated city when it comes to significant musical contributions. Alongside these two bands were one of the most brilliant and beloved groups in history, The Pixies. With their signature style of being aggressive, yet beautifully melodic simultaneously has been the influence for countless bands, and their records remain timeless. Part Dick Dale and part Dick Lucas, the musical fusion of The Pixies are like nothing else that had ever been heard. To make this point even more clear, when looking for their first bass player, the ad in the paper read: "Bassist needed. Into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul, and Mary..." After making a name for themselves with their critically acclaimed, yet commercially unsuccessful debut, Surfer Rosa, The Pixies wasted no time before releasing their magnificent follow up, 1989's Doolittle, just thirteen months later.

The album, originally titled "Whore," was retitled from the song "Mr. Grieves," and this naming process served as the process for the remainder of the bands' career. Much like their debut record, Black Francis wrote nearly the entire album (Kim Deal takes a writing credit on "Silver"). Perhaps the most significant change on Doolittle is the move from producer Steve Albini to Gil Norton. Norton, who made his name working with bands like Echo And The Bunnymen and the aforementioned Throwing Muses, helps to focus the band musically, yet there is clearly a bit of a battle between Norton trying to make the songs more "commercial," and the band trying to stay true to their sound. This tension led to the infamous incident where, after getting frustrated by Norton's instance to lengthen their songs, Francis took him to a record store and handed him a copy of Buddy Holly's Greatest Hits (where most of the songs are well under two minutes). Francis simply said, "If it's good enough for Buddy Holly..." and recording resumed.

The lineup of The Pixies remained the same throughout their entire career. Joey Santiago is easily one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. Bringing clear influence from everyone from Dick Dale to Chet Atkins to Jimi Hendrix, his guitar work is one of the most melodiously crushing sounds you'll ever hear. The person who answered the infamous bass ad was none other than Breeders founder and Dayton, Ohio native, Kim Deal. Truth be told, Deal had never played bass before joining the band (she didn't even own a bass), yet by the time the band recorded, she had more than mastered the instrument. Deal also changes the pace up a bit on Doolittle as she plays a masterful slide guitar on the song, "Silver." Drummer Dave Lovering is nothing short of sensational behind the drums, yet he also shows his diversity, lending bass to "Silver" as well as vocals on "La La Love You." Combined together with Francis' rhythm guitar, the sound created by the band is a stunning juxtaposition between loud, aggressive sounds that somehow have a very quiet and dulcet mood.

At the crux of The Pixies is alternative icon Charles "Black Francis" Thompson. With a vocal style that runs from forceful screaming to angelic harmonies, there are truly few singers who can even be mentioned in the same breath. Lyrically, Francis is as diverse as he is in his singing. Along with him and Lovering, Kim Deal also contributes vocals, and her work, especially on "Monkey Gone To Heaven" are simply gorgeous. With lyrical themes from a retelling of Biblical tales ("Dead") to cult movies ("Debaser") to more classic themes of love and longing, there is never a dull moment within any of the songs that Francis presents. Black Francis also finds a way to write songs with similar ideas to "normal" songs, yet they still have his own, strange twist. The eco-anthem, "Monkey Gone To Heaven" is a cry against the destruction of the oceans and forests of the world. "Hey" is an odd, almost "beat" vocal with Francis trying as best he can to pine for a love. Though the lyrics may seem a bit brash, worlds like, "If you go, I will surely die!" are as honest and beautiful as one can hope for in any song. Again, it is the contrast between "what" is being said versus "how" it is begin said that makes the music of The Pixies absolutely genius.

Truly, the influence of The Pixies cannot be overstated. Their trademark style of playing sound, yet loud at the same time served as the blueprint for arguably the most important band of the 1990's. In fact, Kurt Cobain, once said of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "..."this really sounds like the Pixies. People are really going to nail us for this." Perfecting the style of pummeling, loud music with humble, soft singing and mood, The Pixies' sound has often been duplicated, yet never matched. Though the band was on hiatus for eleven years, their recent shows have been just as amazing as in the early days of their career. Pushing out four fantastic albums in just under four years, it is quite literally impossible to find a "bad" Pixies song. Though each of these records is well worth owning, it is their 1989 release, Doolittle, that perfectly illustrates everything that makes The Pixies so sensational and has earned them their place in music history.

Standout tracks: "Debaser," "Here Comes Your Man," and "Monkey Gone To Heaven."

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