Pixies Reviews: Death to the Pixies

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Death to the Pixies
By Roy Wilkinson
Select, November 1997 (on sale in October)
Transcribed by Dave Pattern for Alec Eiffel

The Pixies had a song called 'Rock Music'. Crucially, such a title never seemed a whimsical thing, a little jab of irony. Because the Pixies were, in many ways, the last rock band. Certainly, by any rock-evaluating equation that includes such variables as visceral excitement, innovation, influence and sheer consistency of output, they were the best rock band of the last ten years.

Nirvana might have utterly eclipsed the Pixies as a cultural phenomenon, but the song that took them there owed everything to the Pixies. As Kurt Cobain himself has said of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', "I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies." Next to the Pixies, Oasis are Jeffrey Archer beside James Joyce, and in some transatlantic superleague of rock, only Radiohead and the Manics could even give the Pixies a game.

It's difficult to now imagine the sheer sucking black hole of thrills that the Pixies brought with the release of their 1987 debut album. 'Come On Pilgrim' emerged when Gaye Bikers On Acid and Zodiac Mindwarp were big news. It was like having Satan turn up at a Hammer Horror location shoot. Here, lads, this is how you do it...

Ten years on from 'Come On Pilgrim' we have this career retrospective. In places the choice of the 17 tracks is slightly bizarre - it starts, for instance, with a cover version (their triumphant take on The Surftones' surfguitar obscurity 'Cecillia Ann'). Indeed, the track listing has been approved rather than selected by Pixies songwriter / singer / guitarist Charles Francis. But, with a back catalogue this rich, you could pretty much pick songs with a pin and still come up with a truly great record. And the collection is undoubtedly fittingly packaged - initial quantities come with a 21-track live CD and the whole live-plus-studio collection is also available as a box set comprising four ten-inch slices of vinyl.

Listen to anything from the 'Come On Pilgrim' selection ('Caribou', 'Holiday Song', 'Nimrod's Son') to the choices from the valedictory 'Trompe Le Monde' album ('U-Mass', 'Planet of Sound') and the Pixies' genius is manifest. At once they were about as celebral and visceral as rock music has ever been. On the one hand there were Francis' complex endlessly varying rhyme schemes, literary devices (acrostics, haikus, sonnets, whatever) and idiosyncratic toying with tempo. On the other hand there was the lyrical pile-up of science fiction, bones, death and Biblical detail.

And when it all came together it was with none of the Grand Guignol goonery of a Marilyn Manson. It was fearsomely erudite and utterly exciting, with neither element remotely constraining the other. It was TS Eliot co-writing with Iggy Pop. If you like rock music, here it is. All of it.
[5 out of 5 stars]
R. W.


Bibles, bones, Billy Corgan - Pixies mainman Black Francis conducts a track-by-track guide of his band's greatest hits.

CECILIA ANN - Opening track on 'Bossa Nova' album. Cover version of Surftones suft instrumental.
"Our nod to the glory of surf music. We'd actually rehearsed 'Apache' by the Shadows, but we ended up doing this."

PLANET OF SOUND - Snarling excerpt from 'Trompe Le Monde' LP.
"The lyric is meant to be sung by an alien. It's a romantic notion - our planet has the phenomenon of sound that occurs nowhere else. So the aliens refer us as The Planet Of Sound. That was the perspective.

TAME - Shoe-themed explosion from 'Doolittle' album.
"'Tame' was a classic exercise in creating dynamics in the most obvious way. Have the guitars drop out, vocals over the top of bass and drums and then loud guitars. Hey, who'd have thought of that?"

HERE COMES YOUR MAN - Atypically mellow take from 'Doolittle'.
"Last winter I was doing promotion in Stockholm and I heard this on the radio. It sounded like the most sugary, sweet thing ever. One of our chirpier numbers. Other people like it, what can you say?"

DEBASER - From 'Doolittle'. Perhaps the archetypal Pixies song. Eyeball-slicing imagery taken from Luis Bunuel's film 'Un Chien Analou'.
"I was recently talking to Billy Corgan at a concert and he started reciting the lyrics to me. 'Slicing up eyeballs' - it's a textbook idea of what's shocking'"

WAVE OF MUTILATION - Epochal maritime rampage from 'Doolittle'.
"The first verse is about the phenomenon where Japanese businessmen were putting their whole family in the car and driving off the dock. The second verse features the Marianas Trench. The only Pixies song I've played as a solo guy."

DIG FOR FIRE - Archaeology-themed excerpt from 'Bossa Nova'.
"Very derivative of the Talking Heads. It's probably about the summer I spent as an archaeology student, working on a burial ground and looking at the sky."

CARIBOU - Primal piece from 'Come On Pilgrim' album.
"It gets into a bit of animism, maybe a little of reincarnation. My focus was the hunt, the caribou. It was good to play - very loud, with a nice little triplet swing going on."

NIMROD'S SON - Biblical flamenco-metal mix off 'Come On Pilgrim'.
"The Nimrod was the Nimrod of the Old Testament. The Biblical thing, I think, has always been part of rock. Y'know, Jerry Lewis, 'Great Balls of Fire'..."

HOLIDAY SONG - Wank-tinged blast from 'Come On Pilgrim'.
"Yeah, that's the one with the mastubatory reference. Kind of a sea-shanty thing - 'He's painted her on the sheets'. It might be an incest thing. But, y'know, I don't have any sisters or anything..."

U-MASS - From 'Trompe Le Monde'. Deals with author's brief attendance at University Of Massachusetts.
"That's probably me trying to be Joe Strummer. The lyrics are kind of a thumbs-down commentary about yound people in a University atmosphere."

BONE MACHINE - Pelvicly-hued burner from 'Surfer Rosa'.
"The imagery is a reference to female anatomy - the pelvis as a sexual area of life. It's an area that people move and swing when they dance."

WHERE IS MY MIND? - Bowie-influenced choice from 'Surfer Rosa'.
"That came from me snorkelling in the Caribbean and having this very small fish trying to chase me. I don't know why - I don't know too much about fish behaviour."

GIGANTIC - Pixies anthem from 'Surfer Rosa'. Lead vocal from bassist Kim Deal.
"A good chord progression, very Lou-Reed influenced. I'd had the word 'gigantic' in my mind just because the chord progression seemed very big to me."

VELOURIA - Lemurs, a theramin - fantastically rich selection from 'Bossa Nova'.
"Kind of a love song, but a lot of the content comes from the Rosicrucians. They believe in a lost continent called Lemuria. That sank and now the inhabitants are meant to live below Mount Shasta in California."

GOUGE AWAY - Old Testament adrenalin burst from 'Doolittle'.
"A fairly straight telling of the story of Samson and Delilah. It has one of those circular progressions, when the verse and the chorus have the same chords. I like it a lot."

MONKEY GONE TO HEAVEN - Man, the devil and gibbons in one song off 'Doolittle'.
"Yeah, it mentions the hole in the ozone and the sea pollution. And, y'know, heaven's always a nice thing to slip in and then you have some Biblical numerology - 'And if man is five... and the devil is six... and God is seven.' It just seemed to fit."


FANCIFUL: Pixies don't always make sense
Death to the Pixies
By Robert Yates
Q #134, November 1997 (on sale October 1st)
Transcribed by C. Gourraud for Alec Eiffel

When Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV - later to be known by the easier handle of Black Francis - decided to form a band, his first step was to length the time of other groups' sets. To see how LITTLE his band needed. It's a nice, deflationary tale for bands are meant to be born in grand circumstances. Even the time-honoured newspaper advert that served to complete the line-up - Thompson asking for a bassist into Husker Du AND Peter, Paul & Mary - was tipically odd. Kim Deal answered the call and brought along drummer David Lovering to join Thompson and his friend, guitarist Joey Santiago.

From the start, not making sense was a key point. Thompson thought there were too many self-important rock bands. His manifesto, out of Boston, USA, was different - "something that sounds great but says nothing". Unsurprisingly, only Lovering lived in Boston; the rest were scattered across America, only hanging out together (another contravention of rock rules) when working. Naturally, despite Thompson's manifesto, Pixies were all too often pumped for meaning. Indeed, the main man, with his nonsense lyrics, was pronounced a surrealist.

This 17-track compilation - early purchasers also get an extra CD of 21 live tracks - draws on all five studio albums, from 1987's Come On Pilgrim to 1991's Trompe le Monde. What becomes clear is that Francis's back-to-basics aesthetic only partly explains Pixies. There are some mad, vicious sounds, but there's also the surfer influence and the acute pop sensibility about which Thompson was sometimes strangely bashful. The lovely Here Comes Your Man was discarded from performances for a while for being "too pop". Maybe that explains why Kim Deal (who later founded The Breeders) didn't get more of a songwriting chance.

Along with Debaser, the Deal-penned Gigantic is Pixies at their best, ferocious but tender. Or "just like the moon", as Francis had it in one of his more fanciful moments, "freezing cold on one side, blistering hot on the other". Not bad for a man who preferred nonsense.


By Mark Beaumont
NME, October 18, 1997
Transcribed by C. Gourraud for Alec Eiffel

Let's get the lineage of Inspirational Pop straight once for all. There was The Beatles. There was the Sex Pistols. And there was The Pixies. The Beatles made pop fly. The Sex Pistols made it spit. And the Pixies chewed it into a pulp and vomited it out.
It was in mid-'89 that the Pixies turned rock music around to the Dark Side. When Black Francis appeared in flickering black and white astride the top of The Chart Show's indie chart and croaked, "If man is five/THEN THE DEVIL IS SIX!!" just before Grandstand. We had no idea what he was on about but we did know that we wanted our mummies; for here was a band that took beautiful pop tunes and slit them open to feed on the innards. This truly was the soundtrack to the Apocalypse and in Pixieworld it was raining severed eyeballs.
And lurking behind the twisted opulence of 'Monkey Gone To Heaven' there was a whole underworld of tortured magnificence - a place where pop was forced to crawl on its belly through the slime of humanity's perversions and still come out grinning. There was a song called 'Tame' that was anything but, as a frothing-at-the-mouth Black Francis screamed and gargled like a psychopath at a teddy bear's picnic. There were buoyant surf tunes called 'Wave Of Mutilation' and 'Nimrod's Son' - a chirpy little ditty about mythological incest. And there were sleeve photos that made Damien Hirst seem like Sooty: shrivelled transplant organs, freakish Monkey Men and aliens formed from distorted eyes.
Hell, between 1987 and 1991 - when the Pixies hatched, slithered and eventually ate themselves - it was inadvisable to go anywhere near a record shop without a safety blanket and plastic trousers.
Yet while they were systematically terrifying our children with their aural Halloweens they were also slyly inventing the future of rock. With the likes of the scary 'Gouge Away', the spikily eclectic 'Bone Machine' and the ubiquitous 'Debaser', Pixies patented the quiet bass bit/LOUD SCREAMY BIT formula that without which most of your favourite bands (Ash, Blur, Nirvana, Supergrass, etc) would be doing Don McLean covers.
History, of course, inevitably makes itself bite-sized and sugar-coated. Hence the grand folly of trying to condense the music of a band who wrote a total of two and a half shit songs over five albums into one 17-track opus (and bonus live album). The result is undoubtedly the best and simultaneously the most frustrating album to be released this year. Sure, there's a spectacular balance struck between the cider-soaked pop singles which seep from the floorboards of every freshers' disco in Christendom to this day ('Here Comes Your Man', 'Gigantic', 'Velouria', 'De-Bloody-Baser') and the inspired, more off-the-wall choices (the brutal delicacy of 'Where Is My Mind?', 'Holidays Song''s impresion of Satan surfing).
However, as the Pixies' entire career exemplified, it's what's not said that really sticks in the craw. And 'Death To The Pixies' all but ignores the artful violence of the final album 'Trompe Le Monde' as well as the spooky alien songs (bar 'Planet Of Sound') that gave Frank Black (as he is now) his lonely-farmer-who-can't-explain-it-but-knows-what-he-saw humour. And made everyone laugh at his solo albums.
But a pox on this nit-picking when every single note on 'Death...' is perfect. If you only buy two albums this year, buy this one. Twice.


Death to the Pixies
By Neil Strauss
New York Times, October 21, 1997
Transcribed by Zarqa Javed

Death to the Pixies, Elektra Records' two-CD set commemorating the late 80s rock of the Pixies, serves as a much-needed reminder of a time when alternative rock was fresh and exciting. An influence on Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins and one of the most popular college rock bands of its time, the Pixies were also one of the first casualties of the mainstream acceptance of alternative rock, breaking up after a disastrous stint as an opening act on U2's "Zoo TV" tour. Perhaps the band's frontman, Frank Black, was too eccentric, enigmatic and unattractive to ever lead the band to the top of the pop charts, but the songs on these CDs are fast, clattering, irresistible shards of punk, surf and quirk rock populated by bizarre Mex-American characters and a cryptic life philosophy alternately innocent and violent. The first disk is a collection of greatest hits; the second features live recordings. Despite omissions (the band's live adaptation of "Heaven" from the movie "Eraserhead," for one), this set is strongly recommended for rock fans both well acquainted and unfamiliar with the group.


Death to the Pixies
By Laurel Bowman
MTV Reviews, October 1997

Most anyone will tell you that live, the Pixies sucked. On a good day the sound was crap and on a bad day the band was. Which is not to say that the Pixies were not a fabulous band. They were, and what made them great was that they had real ideas. A Pixies album was a slew of call-and-response boy/girl harmonies, falsetto caterwauls, Spanish babble, cha-cha rhythms, beach party beats, studio in-fighting and some of the most ferocious guitar playing ever. And that was just Surfer Rosa.

Death To The Pixies is a strange double-CD celebration of a strange band now entering its seventh year of being dead. The first disc is a retrospective covering 17 of the Pixies' more well-known songs. No surprises here. Selections from Doolittle (1989) make up the majority, including the wild "Debaser" and its sinister companion, "Wave Of Mutilation." A nice triptych of songs from 1988 appears clumped together for the first time: "Bone Machine" and the seductive "Where Is My Mind?" from Surfer Rosa sandwich "Gigantic" from the EP of the same name. Nice touch, but nothing that hasn't already appeared on many a fan's mix tape. In fact, there is nothing about this first disc that warrants any attention from anyone who has followed the band.

But wait. The second disc is a previously unreleased, 55-minute live set recorded in The Netherlands in 1990. It does not suck. At all. Except for some dropped-out guitar moments (a real shame, considering that Joey Santiago's sonic plow was the key element in the Pixies' monstrous presence), this performance is potent and utterly professional. Many of the songs from the first disc are repeated here, rendering the originals flaccid in comparison. Live, Black Francis' vocals are more demented; Kim Deal's usually slight voice is more menacing, her bass keeping a nearly impossible pace with Dave Lovering's insane battery. Mr. Santiago's inventive non sequiturs and all-out guitar assault grind everything into the signature mash. Even "Here Comes Your Man" sounds good.

Less than a year from this show, the Pixies would be no more. This document of a particularly good show is sort of like proving aliens really do exist. The Pixies were really good. Give the studio half to your little cousin. Keep the live one. And rock me, Joe.

Last Updated 02-06-98