The Album List #44: The Pixies “Doolittle”


Monkey Gone To Heaven

The Pixies are what Kurt Cobain wanted Nirvana to be, and they are the foundation of all that is good about the last twenty years of rock and roll.

Doolittle is their masterpiece.

Okay, it’s ridiculous for me to even remotely talk about the Pixies. They are one of those bands. The ones everyone talks about. Smarter people than I have written about them. But this album is just so fantastic, and I couldn’t leave the Pixies off a list like this. Just not happening.

I swear to God r that I have listened to “Debaser” a million times in the last two decades. A brief, explosive track all about a single movie watching experience, and you get this gem of a song? Black Francis, aka Frank Black, né Charles Thompson IV, you are a bloody genius. Who else could take one of the most surreal and disturbing of film images ( the infamous eyeball slicing scene from Un chien andalou), and turn it into a punk rock classic? Really? REALLY? It’s Black Francis ripping his vocal chords all the way through, with Kim Deal’s sweet voice entering in occasionally to intone “Debaser”. Just- so close to perfect you feel all warm and lovely in the cockles of your stone cold heart.

If you prefer, you can go with the most conventional song the band ever recorded, the sixties pop vibe “Here Comes Your Man”.  It really is the most obvious and typical thing the Pixies ever did. Which I guess makes it unpredictable and atypical in the world of the Pixies. It’s enough to make my head hurt. Which it now does.

Only the Pixies would write a song like “Wave of Mutilation”, which is said to be about Japanese businessmen killing their families before driving off bridges into the ocean. This could be nonsense. I don’t know, but damn if it wasn’t a catchy little song. “Gouge Away” defines the Pixies trope: soft-loud-soft. There is the drum solo that opens “La La Love You” matched with simple triads, crisp and simple. “Monkey Gone To Heaven” is an environmental anthem lacking much in the way of anthemness, but does have a sweet sing along chorus, and a rich bass line (“The devil is six, and God is seven”, as it goes). “Tame” is a brief  punk rock scream amidst the loveliness of Black Francis’ whispers. It’s a song cycle about what man does to himself, his world, and what he hopes to gain from it all.

Listening to this album time and again over the better part of twenty years, I have settled on two things. One- the Pixies were one of the greatest bands ever to walk the planet. Two- It had to end. The Pixies famously imploded. Kim Deal and her twin sister Kelley formed the Breeders and had an actual hit song with the catchy “Cannonball”. Black Francis became Frank Black and remained as cryptic and bizarre as ever (he had a song called “Headache” that was a minor indie hit, and is a lovely little slice of pop about a headache. Really.) He would later form Frank Black and the Catholics. The Pixies, though, would see their legend grow over the years, and they famously reconfigured for an acclaimed reunion tour in 2004. I feel that the music world is at its best when the Pixies exist. It means that someone in the world is listening to the perfect balance they created- sunshine pop and dark metal, in unison, as a religious experience of sorts. When I hear the Pixies, all is right.

 

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