The Pixies are arguably one of the greatest bands of the 1980’s. The Boston Massachusetts band arrived when alternative was still a term only used at colleges and the neon colors of hair metal ruled the airwaves.
Friends Charles Thompson and Joey Santiago traded college for a shot at the rock and roll life. With bassist Kim Deal and drummer David Lovering on board the Pixies made instant waves with their abrasive sound and Thompson’s absurdly brilliant songs.
Thompson can shriek like no other human being, Santiago’s simple yet inspired guitar playing has really never been matched (even though countless have tried), Deal’s bass throbbed and her personality shined, all while Lovering quietly propelled the songs in to the stratosphere.
Thompson took the stage name Black Francis and a demo caught attention from the right kind of people. Come on Pilgrim was a debut of sorts, pulled together from the recorded demos. It was the follow-up Surfer Rosa and its predecessor Doolittle that cemented the Pixies as absolutely essential.
The legend of the Pixies has grown considerably over the years; a current reunion has made them more popular than when they were here the first time.
Two absolutely brilliant albums as well as two quite good ones were what the Pixies delivered before imploded from personal tensions. Thompson became Frank Black and spent the 1990’s as a completely overlooked solo performer and Kim Deal had a hit with the Breeders in “Cannonball”, but failed to do much after.
Some have called the Pixies the Velvet Underground of the 1980’s, not many heard them, but anybody who did started a band. It is unfair to whittle the Pixies down to ten songs. The religious fervor their fans possess may have me strung up by my toes. Arguments are bound to occur.
“Caribou” from Come on Pilgrim – Black Francis (Thompson) howls “repent” like a punk rock televangelist. Santiago’s guitar soars and demonstrates why he was the band’s not-so-secret weapon.
“Vamos” from Surfer Rosa – A little Spanglish and the most non-hair metal guitar solo of the late 80’s. On a concert stage, Santiago abused his guitar with everything from beer cans to drumsticks.
“Cactus” from Surfer Rosa – Classic creepiness from Thompson’s twisted mind. “Bloody your hands on a cactus tree/wipe them on your dress and send it to me”. Deal’s sweetly sung backing vocals turned Thompson’s serial killer into misunderstood lonely-heart.
“Gigantic” from Surfer Rosa – Kim Deal steals the show and becomes the “it” girl of alternative rock. Her likeability matched Black’s madness perfectly. Just one example of how many things the Pixies could do so well.
“Where is My Mind?” from Surfer Rosa – Any fan of the Pixies probably found them through this song. Everything comes together and the band rises to a new plain. Santiago’s guitar is neck hair tingling.
“Hey” from Doolittle – The second great Pixies album was a big production step up from Surfer Rosa. However, on e of its highlights is the most spare and beautifully-ugly song on the record.
“Monkey Gone to Heaven” from Doolittle – Rolling Stone magazine named this one of the hundred greatest songs ever. The normally fierce and metallic sounding Pixies add strings and become gloriously epic.
“Debaser” from Doolittle – Perfectly macabre songwriting by Thompson and a shiny guitar lead from Santiago.
“Is She Weird” from Bossanova – This is from the Pixies spacey surf-rock album (Which was much better than that sounds). Thompson whispers instead of howls and the Pixies remain brilliant by doing something completely different. Santiago’s guitar adds more mood than aggressive texture.
“U-Mass” from Trompe Le Monde – The blueprint for Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” only smarter and better. Kurt Cobain would have agreed.
Don’t bother with just getting a “best-of” disc of the Pixies, go pick up all of their proper albums. Each one is astounding.