Pixies Reviews: Trompe Le Monde

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Trompe Le Monde
An exclusive Maker preview
Melody Maker, August 1991
Transcribed by C. Gourraud for
Alec Eiffel

The Pixies are set to release their new album, " Trompe Le Monde ", on September 23. It was recorded at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles with producer Gil Norton and has become the most eagerly awaited Pixies LP yet, largely due to the rumours that have surrounded its reported heavy metal content. While the rumours have turned out to be largely innacurate, the album has been described by those who've heard it as the band's answer to critics who thought they'd gone soft on the " Doolittle " and " Bossanova " albums. " I'd say it's more heavy rock than heavy metal, " Black Francis told the Maker in May. " There's no long guitar solos or those kind of cliches, but there are some Led Zeppelinish things here and there. The new stuff is pretty damn heavy, that's for sure. We watch MTV and see those bands like Nelson and Warrant and think surely it's possible to do a better job with that kind of music. "
Originally, the Pixies recorded enough material for two albums and planned to release the rockier " Trompe Le Monde " followed by a softer, possibly acoustic, album a few months later. The Maker understands that this idea has now been shelved in favour of the one album.
The LP's title comes from a play on the French phrase trompe l'oeil - a painting technique designed to make the viewer think objects represented are real.
It features a cover of the Mary Chain's " Head On ". The Pixies heard the track while they were recording " Bossanova ". Their version features substantially re-written lyrics. Former Captain Beefheart keyboardist Eric Feldman guests on some tracks and has helped the Pixies arrange a 10-minute instrumental piece that will appear on a forthcoming LP. Meanwhile, here's the Maker's exclusive " Trompe Le Monde " preview:
The song may have the blitzkrieg guitar rampage reminiscent of " Rock Music " from " Bossanova ", but Charles' innocent, almost sweet nursery rhyme melodies about spacecraft instantly remove it from standard Black Flag-style hardcore. In fact, the entire album is not the much-heralded heavy metal album. Although harder and harsher than anything since " Surfer Rosa ", almost all the songs on " Trompe... " place an equal emphasis on melody. All the abrupt jolts, twists and false starts that have become the Pixies' familiar signature are this time used to seamlessly blend Charles' megaphone rants about outer space with the main body of the song.
The single, full of pleasant little lines like " This ain't no f***ing around, it's just a planet of sound " was the first indication that the Pixies had left behind the mellower strains of " Bossanova " and were out to take no prisoners. A remarkably undisposable piece of trash metal culture.
Loosely (perhaps tenuously) based on the life of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who not only built the famous monolith in Paris, but was also a whizz with aerodynamics - which is why it matches the central sci-fi theme of the album. " Bossanova " was seen by some as the Pixies' surf/sci-fi album just because it had a planet on the cover and two tracks that dealt with the outer limits. This time, space is the fulcrum for over half the tracks. According to Charles, the song started with Eiffel, then he started singing the words Eiffel, rifle, trifle and suddenly " everything fell into place ". It's not certain whether these lines like " Little Eiffel stands in the archway, even though it doesn't make no sense " are an observation on the lunacy of the architecture ot the song itself, which features a Sixties' -style zither!
The full-tilt roar of Charles' holler collides with a metal trash that sounds like Slayer, until the song suddenly lurches into a genteel, liting ballad that echoes " Caribou ". According to Charles, " Sad Punk " is a about " a kid walking along and thinking about dinosaur bones beneath his feet ", which explains the one-word screamed chorus of " Extinction ".
Suffice to say their version of Reid brothers' surf anthem makes the Mary Chain's original version sound as menacing as Chesney Hawkes. When Jim and William heard the version live at the Pixies' recent dates at Brixton Academy, both gave it their blessing with the inimitable phrase, " F*** it, this is how it should sound. "
Continues the Pixies relentless barrage, with Charles' scream taking center stage. A bludgeoning, ferocious Zeppelin-style attack that reflects what might be a swipe n the school system, where communism and capitalism and " stupid stuff " are points of instruction, but life isn't. He even namechecks the University of Massachussetts, which he and Joey Santiago attended before they both dropped out to form the Pixies. He sneers the verse, " Oh kiss the world, oh kiss the sky, oh kiss my ass, oh let it rock " before screaming the chorus of " it's Educational ".
Charles' voice is vaguely reminiscent of Iggy Pop. This is the first time Kim Deal is actually heard singing backing vocals. From the minor discord of " Palace " (perhaps about the lost underwater city of Atlantis), the song seamlessly moves into the more tender " Letter To Memphis " - probably the closest Charles has ever come to writing a love song.
Charles' low-slung baritone croon drapes around a prowling bass that echoes " The Happening " from " Bossanova ". He sings about dreaming of waking up to " Sunshine in the rusty morning ", which hints at a Mars-scape. The Mons Olympus is a mountain range on Mars, with summits over three times the size of the Everest.
Staccato power chords echo Metallica's short, sharp, shock (Santiago described the album as a pelt into guitar hell). The guitars die away, leaving Charles to recount a tale about Jeffrey, who sat on a carpet and with pallet in hand, took up the chase. What's he chasing is anyone's guess.
The twanging surf riffs sound like a cross between a deranged Link Wray and The Ventures. The song also sounds like a cross between " Cactus " from " Surfer Rosa " and " Cecilia Ann " from " Bossanova ". It's a distorted boy meets girl paean, with Charles looking handsome, the girl looking erotic and both dressed in black by the light of the moon. " You know where you are when you're groping for luna, " Charles concludes in a voice that sounds like a garbled railway station announcement.
Clocking in at under two minutes, its mixture of speed and harmony recalls the likes of " Nimrod's Son " off their first album " Come On Pilgrim ".
The acoustic guitars and Charles' talking blues vocales are once again reminiscent of the " Come On Pilgrim " LP.
A song that combines Charles' two favorites themes - surreal travel and science fiction. It has the same jaunty feel of " Wave Of Mutilation ", even though the entire album is conspicuously empty of all references to mangling, laceration, wounding or the bloody themes of the first three albums. Roswell was the place where an alien spacecraft was supposed to have crash landed in 1947. UFO experts swear that the US government actually found the bodies of dead aliens and have suppressed photographic evidence.
The introduction of beautiful, ringing piano arpeggios is in a sharp contrast to the relentless guitar maelstrom that infects most of the album. This time, all manner of kitsch effects are thrown into the cauldron, together with Red Skins and more surf guitaring, but the tunes survives intact.


Review from Trompe Le Monde
Melody Maker, September 21 1991
Transcribed by C. Gourraud for
Alec Eiffel

It's not bad, but that can wait.
Firstly, "Trompe Le Monde" is not a metal album. That rumour, we assume, was put about to wind up Pixies' hugely covetous fanbase and stoked by the release of the single "Planet Of Sound" which sounded, when you honestly think about it, like a cautious Cult. The rumour did, however, have the desired effect, making "Trompe Le Monde" the most eagerly awaited Pixies album yet.

Frankly, we never believed it would be a metal album. Metal is way too un-ironic for someone as clued-up as Black Francis. The sleeve confirmed this for us. It's another half-clever Pixies sleeve that gives away everything by giving away nothing. It's deliberately, obtusely, weird, six sheep's eyeballs lying in a soft bed of salt. The sleeve says, in effect, "This will be an odd, unpredictable, sometimes terrible, sometimes strangely beautiful experience. An album to be reckoned with."

Often, indeed, it is all these things. And just as often, like any other Pixies album, it's tame, lame and, though never quite lazy, awfully workmanlike. And, of course, at points, it's irredeemably daft. Black Francis, as his chosen moniker suggests, has somewhere in his genes a wacky chromosome. One X, one Y, one f***ing great W.

Sometimes his irresistible need to introduce aural and lyrical whoppee cushions into what would otherwise be perfectly respectable songs pays off. "Alex Eiffel" (sic), the album's best pure pop song, owes a good deal of its brilliance to the Barbarella backing-vocal and Francis' endemically facetious lyrics. He rhymes "phallic" with "panoramic". At time, though, the results can be disastrous. "Space (I believe in)" for instance, billed as another epic Pixies sci-fi masterpiece, is in fact simply infuriating. What you have is Santiago's brilliantly heavy and discordant guitar-work building to a terrace chorus (a la Black Flag) of "Jefrey with ONE f! Jefrey with ONE f!" Now, there can be no doubt that 10,000 people simultaneously pumping their fist and chanting that particular line is funny. Once. Maybe even twice. But Black's gonna be touring Europe and America with that one. Humour, more than anything else, is bound by the laws of diminishing returns. Unless of course you're wacky, in which case a joke is a joke ad infinitum. So, where "Space" could have been a monster of a rock track, it becomes an indie Parrot Sketch.

Black's never been much good with sci-fi, his interests not stretching far beyond "Space Oddity" and tacky comics. Where he excels is sex. "Subbacultcha", the album's finest moment, is Black sex. Vaguely reminiscent of Fall rockabilly, the guitars are as visceral, dirty and libidinous as the song's subject matter, a tale we think of a zipless f***ing in a nightclub - though what's left unsaid is as vital as what is said. "She's like jellyroll, like sculpture", barked pornographically, is Black at is Blackest and best.

Sex is one thing, romance is entirely another. Black can sound plaintive and pained, but, deep down, where the W chromosome lurks, he just can' t take life seriously enough to be a true romantic. For Black, life can be dirty, cruel, funny, sometimes all three at once, but it's never huge enough, never melodramatic enough, never clearcut enough to be romantic. Consequently, Pixies ruin the Mary Chain's "Head On . For those of you unfamiliar with the original, it was a dark, ecstatic pop song imbued with a flickering post-Acid keyboard and the regulating thwack of a drum-machine. The best that could be said for the Pixies version is that it sounds like the Sex Pistols when the Pistols were just Paul Cook and Steve Jones. It does not, as has been previously mooted, make the Mary Chain sound like Chesney Hawkes. It simply makes Pixies look like insensitive chumps.

Pixies do, however, share the Mary Chain's love of intricate, insidious melodies and unforgettable hooks (probably why the song was covered in the first place) and this is best exemplified by the aforementioned "Alex Eiffel" (re-sic) and "Palace Of The Brine". Here, in fact throughout most of the album, Black actually sings, reserving his famous scream for the memorable though over-rated "Planet Of Sound", the highly forgettable "Sad Punk" and the inexplicable "U-Mass". "U-Mass" is a tough and fairly nasty rock song about the University Of Massachussetts and its students. Even allowing for Black's lyrical obliqueness, his hysterically bitter tone suggests he doesn't think much of the place. "It's educational!" he howls again and again over the final desperately discordant racket, then loses it completely. Prior to slipping into his straitjacket, though, Black presents us with his argument, the crux of which seems to be that students don't go to U-Mass to study but to f*** and write shite poetry. Since Francis spent a good deal of his college career doing just that, it would seem a clear case of the pot calling the kettle Black. Whatever, it's most definitely a case of biting the hand that feeds. Whis is always commendable.

All this said, "Trompe Le Monde" is, if not Pixies' most inspired album, then certainly their most technically accomplished. And, though one third of its 15 tracks, like its cover, are damnably obvious and purposefully loopy, at least another third are excellent. This is par for the course. Pixies have always been flawed and, because they are the kind of people they are, always will be. If you thought any of their records since "Surfer Rosa" were worth owning, then "Trompe Le Monde" most definitely is too. If, like us, you had your doubts, borrow it or tape it, just get to hear it before chucking your money around.

Take it seriously. Sheep were blinded for this album.
The Stud Brothers


Trompe Le Monde
By James Brown
NME, September 1991

'Trompe Le Monde' is a greasy slab of noise, devoid of the variety of previous Pixies works, and strapped with a desire to sound harder, grungier, and more love-less than ever before. The lyrics of Black Francis are not those of someone inspired by language, but someone obsessed by sci-fi, handing out vocals at a moment's notice, no thought for a rewrite, and too charmless to pass for more than drug-influenced ditties.

Though their eagerness to record fresh material every year has to be admired, the Pixies have suffocated their creative strengths and trampled dirt into their fairy dust. Those of you who like that grating surf guitar sound the Pixies have claimed for themselves will have to do battle with a production that's too up-tight to break out those frighteningly brilliant riffs of yore. This is music for mudslingers not gunslingers, too intense to take in one listen. Its only hope as an album is that live workings of the same material will snap its rigor mortis and set the individual songs racing like meteorites - because half of them really deserve that freedom. There's no doubting the Pixies' abilities, they create tensions and structures in their songwriting that set them leagues apart from the generation that used noise to hide lack of talent, but 'Trompe Le Monde' finds them stuck in the grease between two cogs.

Space, guns, construction, sound, acid and sex are the order of the day as Charles, Kim, Joey and David sweep through their new songs like lava down the mount. In all furnace the material never lets up, it's harsh and hellish from the off, waving a fist in the direction of hard rock riffs on 'Planet Of Sound' and 'Space (I Believe In)', and encouraging Black Francis to whine and mewl at will on 'U-Mass'. The structures of these new Pixie-songs, though, are blunt and gristly. In the past their music has chased the listener through a song, inspiring and entertaining as it goes, leaving you disappointed when they end. Here the songs are so raw they're frustrating. They've attempted to write 'Darklands' and come up with 'The Frenz Experiment' and left it choking on its own phlegm.

The cover of the Mary Chain's 'Head On' is bizarre. The Pixies have written some excellent songs here, 'Alec Eiffel' and 'Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons' we will come to, but to adopt a riff, a structure, a gasping lyric, a love so twisted and classic as 'Head On' is to highlight every dark rusty corner of 'Trompe Le Monde' for what it is. You just don't want to hear The Pixies arseing about in tortuous fashion elsewhere when you can hear them apply their characteristic paint-job to the Reid brothers very obvious talent.

If you're familiar with the darker moments of Nick Cave, The Fall and the Mary Chain, then it's perfectly clear where the Pixies are racing for, 'Lovely Day' in particular is jaunty and stylish enough to have escaped from, the recorded works of the above.

'Motorway To Roswell' could have turned up late from the 'Doolittle' session. A track with space and charm, Charles' vocals don't sound like a pig on a skewer, on the hard-shoulder Joey's guitars chop and change with distinction, and the song builds - so few of these do. An atmosphere is created, the song ends with screaming feedback marking the memory, and sets the pace for the closing song 'The Navajo Know', the band's only attempt to recreate those humming guitar pieces that could have fallen from heaven or vintage cowboy and redskin flicks.

While 'Palace Of The Brine' offers a rich, glowing staple to 'Trompe Le Monde', its guitars and vocals crush grooved into one, the riff a respectable backbone of sound, the structure capturing the Pixies on top form, it's the third track 'Alec Eiffel' that will come to be as popular as 'Debaser' live. A two-minute thrash through the story of Alec 'Little' Eiffel and his Tower De Force that could have been scribbled on the back of a handkerchief, it's a song that cuts into the psyche like a knife, the guitars are regimented but insane, they slash, slice and stab freely whilst Charles and Kim get all intergalactic with their vocals.

Presented as tracks one to 15, with its garish cover, over-compensated production techniques, and ugly snarls, 'Trompe Le Monde' is a tedious beast, but climb inside it, rip it apart and explore the pockets of brilliance and you'll know the Pixies are still up there, they just need some secateurs. It's dark and dirty, and some of it's downright unbearable, but it will grow on you. They could have come to the party in a speedboat and instead they showed in a battleship. And I hardly even mentioned the studied beauty of 'Bird Dream...'


Trompe Le Monde
Q #61, October 1991

Boston's Pixies have already ascended close to stadium status judging from their recent triumph at Crystal Palace. Yet their mounting success betrays no loss of tension in their angular guitar rock and no desire to tame Black Francis' s wilful muse. This Fifth outing has long been rumoured as their heavy metal album but, despite oodles of snarling riffs and twisted guitar lines, Pixies' roots remain Firmly in punk, garage and trash pop. Even when Black Francis is at his most demented on Sad Punk or the sardonic Subbacultcha, he still sounds like he's relishing a joke and it is that mixture of detachment and sheer exuberance that make Trompe Le Monde an unqualified triumph.
Several of the songs here manage to combine furious garage riffing with sudden Flashes of pop melody that make Pixies sound like the missing link between The Kinks and Glarn. Palace Of The Brine and Alec Eiffel thrive on this combination of a stack of walled guitars and singalong phrases that manage to thrust their head above the pounding drums, strangled guitars and Black Francis's alternatively dry and berserk vocals.
Planet Of Sound, Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons and Jesus And Mary Chain's Head On are all authentic pop anthems that somehow manage to update the new wave legacy of an Only Ones or earlier B-52's. But they still refuse to strike easy poses or make overblown gestures, relying instead on a droll sense of the absurd, some surprising melodic twists and a ferocious sense of attack currently lacking in virtually all the opposition.
Above all, Pixies manage to combine the grunge rock attack of songs like Space with a liberating sense of playful fun that never deserts them. God knows what Black Francis is on about but any man who can happily compare a girl to jellyroll and sculpture in the same breath is clearly alright. Daft but deadly.
Mark Cooper

Last Updated 06-03-97