Pixies Reviews: Bossanova

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Q #48, September 1990

Much ink has been spilt extolling the modern and challenging nature Of Boston's Pixies over the course of their three previous LPs. Like Cameroon in the World Cup, with their fourth they give other rockers an object lesson in the first principles of how it should be done. Without in any way mimicking such '60s artists as the Stones, Hendrix and The Velvet Underground, they combine catchiness (for want of a better word) with a thrilling abrasiveness of sound. They also know that the single vivid phrase, however seemingly meaningless or throwaway, will always score more points than the scrupulously linear and coherent lyric - the Stones' Mixed Emotions has already faded somewhat in the memory banks, for example, but Jumping Jack Flash will always be a gas, gas, gas.
The Pixies' fondness for the ringing phrase is exemplified in the single Velouria, quite possibly the first love song dedicated to a girl named after a soft furnishing fabric; for reasons that defy analysis, the chorus "my Velouria" sounds immediately right (and rather better than the Psychedelic Furs' Pretty In Pink upon which it seems to be modelled). Its air of queasy jocularity is echoed elsewhere on the album, such as Is She Weird? - "Is she weird? /Is she white? /Is she promised to the night?/And her head has no room." What can they mean? one wonders; what on earth are they on?
Musically, too, The Pixies are masters of the calculated incongruity. Where previous albums boasted perhaps one or two songs- Gigantic and Debaser, for instance - where a heaven- sent chorus came delivered courtesy of a rock sound of offhand swagger, Bossanova is chock-full. Cheek-by-jowl with amped-up versions of the sort of tune you'd associate with such surfers as The Ventures and The Chantays, one chances upon a song like Havalina (yet another example of the Latin-American references The Pixies like to drop in music otherwise entirely free of handclaps, castanets and timbales), which boasts lead guitar of which Rubber Soul-era George Harrison would have been proud and a chorus so ethereally sweet it could score the next diet cola commercial. Oddly enough, such has been the success of the revived B52's with their unusual guitar tunings, hectoring lead vocal and almost kitsch girlie harmonies that one wouldn't bet against the mass ear now being ready for the slightly punkier Pixies. Besides, any band that revives for their single Velouria that antique electronic gizmo the Theremin - last popularly heard on Good Vibrations - has got to be worth a hit.
Mat Snow


By Terry Staunton
NME, August 1990

The ever-so-arty lyric book that accompanies the new Pixies album contains the words to a song that you will not find on the record itself.

'Make Believe', sung by drummer David Lovering, can be found on the 'Velouria' single. It is Black Francis' paean to the Doris Day of the MTV generation, Debbie Gibson. 'I don't want you to marry me/Make believe you're Debigee", sings Lovering, echoing the sentiments of a nation's adolescents. Miss Gibson has now been immortalised in song twice in the last year (who could forget Mogo Nixon's boast 'Debbie Gibson is Pregnant With My Two-Headed "Love Child?), which isn't bad going for a 19-year old. She has become a national institution while still in her teens, and therefore is perfect subject matter for the Pixie's chronicles of American obsessions.

Cultural icons are one thing, be they real life legends like Debigee or fictitious sci-fi femme fatales like Velouria, but on 'Bossanova' Black Francis concentrates on another major obsession - weirdos from another planet.

Among these 14 songs you'll find more references to space travel, aliens, flying saucers and superior civilizations in strange faraway galaxies than in the entire '70s Bowie back catalogue. None of it makes much sense, of course, and those of you who read NME cover story on the Pixies a few weeks back will be well aware of this. The truth of the matter is that Black Francis is totally barmy.

'Bossanova' is the Pixies in the Twilight Zone, Black Francis exploring the obscure and the unknown; Carl Sagan with a guitar cranked up to full volume. 'The Happening' is the eerie lynchpin of the album, a stream-of-consciousness tale of alien craft landing in Las Vegas ("They're gonna put it down right on the strip/ ...And step outside inside the lights right outta that ship/Saying Hi").

Black Francis is completely wigged-out, my friends, although he doesn't appear to see anything wrong with this worldview. 'Is She Weird' is a thundering lament to the most spaced-out of earth girls who is anything but easy: "Your mind is fancy/And your car is bitchin'/Your heart is ripshift/Your mouth is everywhere/I'm lyin' in it."

On 'Allison' it's clear that the Pixies have lost touch with Ground Control for good, drifting away in the outer limits of a fertile but undisciplined imagination: "And when the planet hit the sun/I saw the face of Allison." If there is some kind of theme to 'bossanova', it is the most obtuse thing in the world, a voyage into the unknown with a tour guide who is obviously missing a couple of buttons on his overcoat.

Gil Norton's production leans towards the harsh garage grunge of 'Surfer Rosa', although the songs retain the strong melodies of 'Doolittle'. In many ways, 'Bossanova' is the composite Pixies LP, the most positive elements of its two predecessors blended together to make one of the most intriguing and listenable albums of the year.

Two instrumentals set the ball rolling. A cover of The Surftones' 'Cecilia Ann' sounds like the theme to a post-Apocalyptic spaghetti western, as if Sergio Leone was shooting on Saturn. Next up is a wild guitar thrash anthem that encompasses all that is wonderful about rock music. Black Francis has called this song 'Rock Music'.

By now most of us have heard 'Velouria'. Not as immediate as 'Gigantic' or 'Monkey Gone To Heaven' as far as singles go, but still a delightfully wiggy window to the world of Black Francis and the maddest thing to have been seen on Top Of the Pops since The Wombles wee Top Ten regulars.

'Ana' and 'All Over The World' would not be out of place on 'Aladdin Sane', with Black Francis doing his best Bowie impersonaton. 'Ana' is a brief repetitive piece, just six lines long. The lyric book shows us the first letter of each line spells out S-U-R-F-E-R, while on 'All Over The World' Black Francis claims "I am a derangement." And we believe him.

'Stormy weather' flirts with the kind of omnious doom The Jesus and Mary Chain used to excel at, peppered with the guitar psychedelia employed to such good effect by Lenny Kravitz in recent times. If the whole shebang sounds a touch derivitive, it is, but 'Bossanova' still retains the indelible Pixies stamp, a collection of picture postcards from a different planet.

Black Francis may be the urbane spacemen of the 1990's but with the Pixies he has fashioned a flight path to untold fame and fortune on an extremely lovable album. You've really made the grade, and the papers want to know whose shirts you wear.


Q's Guide to the Best 50 Albums of 1990

As if further proof were needed, Boston's Pixies start off where most other guitar-laden post- punksters leave off; casually dropping both cultural and musical references with a freedom and cracked humour that lesser mortals can only view with envy, while never stinting on the melodies or the power either. Like its predecessor Doolittle, Bossanova is thrumming with ideas right from the off with the twangy surf-style Cecilia Ann being followed in double quick time by a fiery Rock Music, Velouria's tactile harmonies and scorching Allison (in praise of the veteran bluesman Mose, it seems) before you've even had time to get your breath back. And that's just a quarter of it. There's enough here to last another year at least.

Last Updated 06-09-97