Pixies Reviews: Doolittle
Come On Pilgrim|
Trompe Le Monde|
That little monkey with the halo hot-wired to its tiny skull - the central image for both the Pixies' latest single
and this, their second LP - could almost be a cryptic clue to what exactly makes this band tick.
Cute and mischievous for sure, angelic...perhaps, but there's certainly something darker and stranger at play
within the Pixies' magical, musical circle. Peel back that little monkey's scalp and you'll probably be both
appalled and fascinated at the tumour of evil genius that's squirming there.
Mishear one of these lyrics and, while you're optimistically humming along, something altogether different is in
the mind of these little devils. While you're Pixies-led into thinking about "jubilation" they're really mouthing
"mutilation"...spot the difference? Nothing is quite, thankfully, what it at first seems on 'Doolittle' and that's
exactly what gives it a razor edge.
These Pixies from Boston have laid open their secrets with 'Doolittle' by including a beautifully produced lyric
booklet with the initial 30,000 copies (quick kids before they fly away!), a slick and artistic grimoire which
mates the words of 'Doolittle' together with Simon Larbalestier's portraits of demented decay.
The images herein are bloated with Blue Velvet surrealistic dreamscape. Larbalestier's rot-riddled images in
their sepia tones echo the effects of such surrealist photographers as Man Ray or Hans Bellmer, two artists who
were more than aware of the monster that lie submerged beneath the dark depths of the human subconscious.
As a mere give-away however, it's a bonus, and great fun can be had turning the pages to try and relate which
image goes with which song. More valid and worthwhile than some other dumb consolation prize as it opens up
another door in the Pixies' psyche.
So just what does give on 'Doolittle'? The surrealistic show of sepia splendour that floods the lyric booklet
overflows with a vengeance to seep into the very songs themselves. There are 15 of them, each neatly numbered
and labelled like the exhibits of some eccentric travelling museum.
'Debaser', which kicks off, is blessed with the kind of beefy bass hook that originally brought 'Gigantic' to life.
Black Francis leaps into action and plunges into a lyric that transforms Dali/Bunuel's film script of Un Chien
Andalou into a three minute pop song. Complete with razored eyeball reference, it is an astonishing
Equally thrilling, positively unnerving, is 'Tame' where the rabid pant of a serial killer is superimposed over Kim
Deal's breathlessly passionate backing vocal to create a highly potent mix of emotions. More amusing is the fact
that Black Francis manages to make his voice sound the spit of veteran Hollywood bad guy Peter Lorre! On
purpose? I'd dearly love to know.
Personally I find Black Francis's lyrics, together with the various ways he chooses to translate them, a delight.
He manages to push a kind of Beefheartian naivety into his work that suggests a love affair with the very
language he is dabbling in. So who cares if all the words don't appear to fit together properly, or that the picture
they eventually show is slightly blurred and chaotic? It all adds to the originality and charm of the band who
bring such visions to life.
Black Francis' songs here seem to have an almost 'speaking in tongues' quality to them, as though an invisible
presence has gently guided his band in an attempt to get through from some phantom zone. How else can the
crackling static bones of such spectres as 'Crackity Jones' or 'Mr Grieves' be explained as they whoop and roar
out of this record to shake their raggedy fists in your face? The songs on 'Doolittle' have the power to make you
literally jump out of your skin with excitement.
From seemingly nowhere the Pixies manage to concoct something that ultimately builds into an epic on a
miniature scale. The wonderful 'Monkey Gone To Heaven' is laced with lush but unobtrusive strings which
nibble round the edge of the song and push it into a new realm of arrangement for the band. The opportunity to
give 'Monkey' the full Philharmonic treatment, complete with heavenly harp, must have been a temptation to
them. Wisely such a folly has been resisted.
'Monkey' is the most immediate song to ring out as a single on 'Doolittle' and (if indeed it is their intention) it
will be interesting to see which song they decide to push individually next time round. My bet is on 'There Goes
My Gun' which sounds like a sure shot to me with its Duane Eddy meets Ennio Morricone guitar twang.
Whatever they decide, the Pixies' popularity shows no sign of waning just yet and, as 'Doolittle' positively
underlines, there is no shortage of ideas. Good news not only for Pixies fans but for the state of independent
music as a whole. I can think of no finer role models than these Bostonian imps of the perverse. (10)
The aptly named Black Francis can
justifiably boast one of the most
troubled psyches currently at work
on the margins of American rock.
As linchpin of Boston's Pixies his
muse is darkness itself: a eureka-
screeching, snorting beast with the
sort of wild and foaming mouth
designed to scare the pants off
those of a faintly nervous
disposition. But no matter what
grim hue his tales of madness,
mortality, impalement or carnal
grinding take on, there's often a
glint in the eye to suggest that
something other than literal
interpretation is called for. How
else to explain the immolating
demands of Gouge Away, not to
mention Wave of Mutilation or,
most explicit of all, Dead? This is
clearly the stuff of classic obsessive
teen horror nastiness set to a
soundtrack of growling guitars
somewhere on the out roads
between Sonic Youth's metallic
howling and uninhibited hardcore.
It's not pretty, but its carefully
structured noise and straight forward
rhythmic insistence makes
perfect sense: a gut feeling that is
doubled when it gets within sniffing
distance of a tune, as on Monkey
Gone To Heaven or Debaser. If the
Come on Pilgrim mini-album and
last year's Surfer Rosa were hard
acts to follow, then Doolittle is a
massive 15-track affirmation of
mushrooming Pixie power.
Inspired by the skewed world vision of singer Black Francis, the Pixies set their distopian dreams against a
backdrop of jagged, sometimes abrasive, sometimes seductive, forceful guitar pop. Their sound was energetic
and disturbing, intelligent but not intellectual, and irrepressibly appealing in its offbeat angst. The fractious
combination of Francis' s over-the-top but strangely relevant lyrics and vocals, and the band's unsettling
melodicism reached its epitome in 1989's Doolittle. Included on this record which eclipsed any past, future or
solo projects from the band were a joyously catchy pop song with Francis yelping about wanting to grow up to
be a " Debaser ", a weird surf song about a "Wave Of Mutilation", the intentional platitudes of " La La Love
You " and the scatological emotionalism of "Hey". Such gleeful subversions of the typical and devotion to
unsentimental passion are Doolittle's greatness, much more than weirdness for its own sake. From the pop
tunefulness of "Here Comes Your Man" and "There Goes My Gun" to the eerie fatalism of "Monkey Gone
To Heaven" and the noisy anguish of "Gouge Away", the Pixies go beyond their strange and esotheric
trappings to express a unique, ardent vision that is both serious and a lot of fun to listen to.
Last Updated 06-03-97