PIXIES Come On Pilgrim (4AD)

PIXIES Surfer Rosa (4AD)

These are the first two long-playing (or mini long-playing, in the case of "Come On Pilgrim") outpourings from the legendary Boston quartet formally known as Pixies In Panoply, the band who arguably invented the whole grunge movement and then broke up within seconds of it going mainstream with the release of Nirvana’s "Nevermind".

The eight tracks on "Come On Pilgrim" (a title taken from the catchphrase of Christian folk singer Larry Norman, "Come on pilgrim, you know He loves you") scorch out of your speakers like some Mexican Hell’s Angels house thrash band, with Black Francis’ lyrical observations touching on death, prostitution, holidays, incest and Lou Reed, but more frequently descending into shrieking Spanish. If "Come On Pilgrim" doesn’t sound as incendiary to today’s listeners as it must have done twelve years ago, that’s surely because the first tremors of grunge that can be felt rearranging the furniture herein have been emasculated by a society that uses the music of Stiltskin (themselves a bastardisation of the pure Pixiness espoused on these releases – discuss) to sell you jeans.

Five months later the band’s debut album proper, "Surfer Rosa", arrived. With the uncontrolled chaos somehow marshalled into order by the brutality of Steve Albini’s production – drums mixed up front, rhythms intoned with military precision – the band’s new-found sledgehammer dynamics married perfectly with Black Francis’ rapidly accelerating songwriting prowess. Highlights? Pick a track, any track; none of the thirteen are less than excellent. The hilarious dialogue excerpts have entered into indie legend, but listening again you may notice the T.Rex tribute buried in "Cactus" (the background football chant of "P-I-X-I-E-S", just like "The Groover"’s "T-R-E-X"). They may have gone on to make better albums, but none were as simultaneously playful and brutal as "Surfer Rosa".

PIXIES Trompe Le Monde (4AD)

"Trompe Le Monde" is the Pixies final album, originally released in 1991 within weeks of "Nevermind", the album that even its creators admit stole freely from the Pixies' rich legacy, bastardising their subtlety and smack into alternative stadium fare. Now reissued at mid-price along with the rest of the Pixies catalogue, if "Nevermind" figures in your collection you owe it to your ears to discover where the real deal is at: terrific songs, Gil Norton's diamond hard production, mad sci-fi lyrics, Black Francis' blood-curdling screams, Steven Appleby's cute sleeve illustrations, even a Jesus And Mary Chain cover, "Trompe Le Monde" (or in fact any of the Pixies' albums) is a bit like spending forty minutes in a spin dryer with the complete Ozzy-era Black Sabbath back catalogue (er, I would imagine) - noisy, scary, heavy, dangerous and addictive.

PIXIES Death To The Pixies (4AD)

Could it possibly be true that a whole generation of indie kids have grown up without having Boston’s finest around to kick their preconceptions into shape? In celebration of the tenth anniversary of the release of their first album, the much mythologised Pixies have now been thoroughly anthologised in the form of this luxuriously packaged item. Depending on your personal preferences you can obtain "Death To The Pixies" (the title coming from an old Pixies t-shirt) as a cassette or single CD containing seventeen hand-picked highlights from their five-album back catalogue, a double CD with an additional live gig (Utrecht, September 1990) and a 4 album 10" vinyl box set featuring the studio tracks, the live stuff, a booklet and of course acres of the usual gorgeous Vaughan Oliver artwork. But obtain it you really should.

I remember the first time I heard the Pixies: a friend had brought over a tape of "Doolittle", and from the bass intro to "Debaser" onwards I was totally hooked. They played some bizarre hybrid of surf music and punk infused with both total seriousness and complete insanity, over which Black Francis, as he then was, hollered sci-fi and Spanish like some castrato Captain Beefheart. They played quiet bit-loud bit songs years before anyone thought of calling it grunge, and the moment it started to go supernova they gave it up: the same month the Pixies released their final album, the ever-underrated "Trompe Le Monde", an obscure Seattle band released something called "Nevermind". Kurt Cobain later admitted that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a poor attempt at copying the Pixies. It was as if the fire really went out; even Frank Black’s subsequent solo outings have been thin gruel, unfit even to clean the dust off the works of his former band.

If you like that many headed beast that is ‘indie’ and, shame on you, haven’t heard any Pixies, buy this album: the likes of "Debaser", "Here Comes Your Man", "Dig For Fire" and "Velouria" will just about keep you sated whilst you save up to buy all their other albums. And if, like me, you’ve already got all their other albums, buy "Death To The Pixies" anyway: you’ll gain the single version of "Gigantic", a couple of unannounced acoustic demos of material that would later be included on "Come On Pilgrim", recorded late ‘86/early ‘87, and of course the live gig, which, bar a rendition of the b-side "Into The White" and a strange, slow "Wave Of Mutilation" offers no surprises. Well, no surprises that you wouldn’t expect from a Pixies gig, anyway. Treasure this album: we will never see quite their like again, and perhaps now is the time for our tears.

PIXIES Pixies At The BBC (4AD)

This is a mid-price CD of, hopefully, the Pixies entire BBC archive: 15 tracks recorded for John Peel and Mark Goodier’s shows. All the usual suspects you’d expect to see from the band’s four-and-a-half studio albums are present and correct, plus covers of The Beatles’ "Wild Honey Pie", David Lynch’s "(In Heaven) Lady In The Radiator Song" and a version of the b-side "Manta Ray". Even a confirmed Pixies addict would probably be sent gaga trying to cross-reference what differences there are (and aren’t) between these takes and the versions we know and love, but these songs certainly crackle with as much, if not more, energy and commitment as ever they did. Key moments: Black Francis’ exhortation to "Rock me, Joseph Alberto Santiago" just before the guitar solo in "Monkey Gone To Heaven", and the way his screams are possibly more spine-chilling than I’ve heard before later in that same song.

PIXIES Pixies (Cooking Vinyl)

In March 1987 the Pixies recorded a collection of demos that became known to aficionados of the band as "The Purple Tape". Eight of the seventeen tracks were selected for use on their debut mini-album "Come On Pilgrim", the remainder languishing in the vaults until former Pixie Frank Black's current label released them as this eponymous album. Although it's good to be able to finally hear these songs, there's little original to savour on this album that scrapes together barely 20 minutes of music. Six of the nine tracks here have appeared on subsequent Pixies studio albums, all in similar form apart from "Subbacultcha", which here also incorporates fractions of "Distance Equals Rate Times Time". The three other tracks are the psychotic Sun Session skiffle of "Build High", the otherwise unavailable sludgy lullaby "Rock A My Soul" and a cover of David Lynch's "In Heaven".

So there's nothing really fabulous about this album, which predominately consists of umpteenth versions of songs you already know, own and adore. Hopefully - following the compilation, live, b-side and BBC sessions albums - "Pixies" closes the chapter on the band's brief but frequently fantastic career with some finality.

PIXIES Doolittle (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)

Recently celebrated in a sold-out series of Brixton Academy concerts, how come “Doolittle” still sounds timeless two decades after its release? Well, what’s to date it? There’s no faddish production or desperately contemporary lyrics, just ever-inventive, utterly inspired alt-rock, dispatched with brevity, wit and earthquaking power.

The proto-grunge of “Debaser” might be the album’s defining moment, Black Francis hollering lyrics inspired by early surrealist cinema classic “Un Chien Andalou” over deliciously debauched music performed by a whipsmart, disciplined garage rock band. If that suggests the album’s in danger of peaking too early, the remaining 14 wild variations on the theme hardly disappoint. “Tame” does that quiet/loud/quiet thing that would later make Nirvana famous, although Kurt Cobain’s screams never curdled blood the way Francis’ do here. “Here Comes Your Man” is the band’s ultimate twisted pop song, and “Number 13 Baby” is razorblade-spiked bubblegum. “Doolittle” is a unique combination of elements and iconography, one that neither the Pixies nor popular music in general have managed to recapture.

Mobile Fidelity’s reissue is the most lavish “Doolittle” I’ve ever encountered. It arrives in a sturdy gatefold sleeve bearing a lyric booklet crammed with even more of Vaughan Oliver’s despicable artistic loveliness and MoFi’s traditional care-and-attention-soaked heavyweight vinyl pressing.

PIXIES Doolittle: London, Brixton Academy, October 8th 2009 (Liveherenow)

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at the Brixton Academy on the night of 8 October 2009. and does this release (a band-sanctioned mail-order CDR, one of eight recorded on the band's "Doolittle"-toting European tour) ever bring it all back.

There was the seemingly endless agonising wait whilst a heavily-scissored "Un Chien Andalou" played on an otherwise unused video screen above the stage, soundtracked by what appeared to be Philip Glass at 16 rpm; the befuddlement that greeted their decision to open not, as expected, with "Doolittle"'s breathless, grunge-inventing shot across the bows "Debaser" but the waddling surf music of "Manta Ray", followed by further, nondescript b-sides. But when it finally arrived, "Debaser" was, and here remains, prickly electric perfection.

The set is peppered with bassist Kim Deal's sardonic commentary on the album's progress, she apparently being the band's nominated spokesperson for the evening as nobody else utters more than a "Thanks for coming to the show". There are no shocking deviations from the canonical text; it's just played a little louder, rougher and faster than the record, none of which seems like a bad idea. Black Francis tears chunks from his throat during "Tame" and his screams are capable of curdling plasma on "There Goes My Gun". "Monkey Gone To Heaven" hits with an impact appropriate to its lyrical payload predicting imminent environmental apocalypse, "Here Comes Your Man" is just delicious and "La La Love You" and "Number 13 Baby" are sweet/sour bubblegum pop. But all too soon "Gouge Away" shudders and spasms to a conclusion, and, in Kim's words, "Record's over; spill the beer on it and ruin it".

The encores begin with yet more b-sides (the slow-motion UK Surf version of "Wave Of Mutilation"; cult favourite "Into The White") before finally the evening slips its "Doolittle"-centric axis with a trio of early classics. Francis sounds demonically  possessed  as he yells "Repent! Repent!" during "Caribou", and "Nimrod's Son" affords the opportunity for the entire sweaty, euphoric Academy to yell in unison "You are the son of a motherfucker!", which doesn't happen as frequently as maybe it should. To finish, "Gigantic"'s shimmery pop nous has the impact of a diamante-wrapped sledgehammer.

The sound's just dandy; there's no bootleg chic here. However, perhaps because of the swift turnaround time - mine arrived barely a week after the concert - the packaging is generic to the entire series, meaning that its tracklist isn't, being merely a list of the "Doolittle"-and-related components common to every show. For reasons that defy common sense "Nimrod's Son" has been split into two parts, and a desire to preserve the main attraction proper on the first disc leaves the programme somewhat lopsidedly weighted towards it, with only 20-odd minutes of encores on the second. Added to which, some careful, sensitive editing of the yawning gaps between encores could've ensured the music could've sat prettily on a single CD, arguably improving the pacing for home listening into the bargain. Still, as a document of an evening I was present at, it serves purpose admirably.

PIXIES Bossanova (4AD)

The least good of the Pixies' 4.5 albums, after inventing grunge and perfecting their sweet/sour pop dynamic on "Doolittle", the clanging, clattering garage rock and sci-fi and surf motifs that constitute much of "Bossanova" seem stale and regressive. "Velouria", at the time the band's biggest UK hit, remains a luxurious, chiming mystery that proves Black Francis hadn't entirely mislaid his songwriting skills. But, this shining exception aside, even the better tracks sound like retreads, the energy forced and uninspired. Whatever merit they have on their own terms, the likes of "Allison" and "Is She Weird" add nothing to Pixies mythology, unnecessary efforts from a band not accustomed to repeating themselves. Stretching out to the wrong side of five minutes, "All Over The World" even starts to outweigh its welcome, not a traditional criticism of a band whose brevity is one of their many charms. Even the Nirvana-inspiring quiet/loud/quiet template best exemplified by "Doolittle"'s shocking, glorious opener "Debaser" is absent here, with most songs squashed monotonously flat.

Heaping sonic insult upon musical injury, 4AD's current vinyl pressing is pretty dreadful. There's distortion where there's really no reason for it, and some tracks are covered in a strange fuzziness suggestive of a fluff-clogged stylus. The lyric booklet found in the original issue is omitted, too. Mobile Fidelity have one of their typically long-delayed vinyl editions in the works, which, judging from their fabulous reissue of "Doolittle", will no doubt prove to be the definitive analogue word on this sadly non-definitive album.

PIXIES Troxy, London 4 June 2010


I was fortunate enough to have seen the Pixies play their magnificent "Doolittle" album complete and in sequence at Brixton Academy last October and, like a gift that keeps on giving, it's that night that brings me back to London tonight. Having bought the CD of the concert via the band's website, some months later I was sent an email advertising two fans-only shows at the Troxy, an offer I speedily snapped up. Even better than that, some weeks before the concert I was invited to submit setlist suggestions. As a model for reaching out to your fans whilst the music business' traditional revenue streams crumble around those unable or unwilling to concede that the times they are a-changin', such efforts are commendable.


All of which would count for nothing if the concert itself weren't fabulous but, freed from the shackles of replaying an admittedly classic album, the Pixies are far, far more intense tonight, a constant blam! blam! blam! of delights ratcheting up the tension and ecstasy with each passing song. It's a totally different and, perhaps surprisingly, far more exciting experience than starting out at "Debaser" knowing that the evening is inexorably winding its way towards "Gouge Away".  As before bassist Kim Deal acts as the band's collective mouthpiece, loosing occasional banter such as "I don't know how to play "Brick Is Fucking Red"!"


Musically, well, they're like the Pixies but even more so: louder, dirtier, more distorted but just as tuneful, still cheerfully trampling over that celestial/satanic divide. Perhaps the evening's only major divergence from the recorded texts is Joey Santiago's famed extended guitar solo during "Vamos", during which, according to someone with a more commanding view of events than me, he plays his instrument with one of Dave Lovering's drumsticks. Opening as if revving up for a "Bossanova" night with  a one-two of "Cecilia Ann" and a brutally truncated "Rock Music", the peerless setlist includes lashings of "Trompe Le Monde" (recently bafflingly condemned in the Grauniad for its "sub-metal stylings"' but rightly rehabilitated as a lost classic tonight): I can't imagine The Jesus & Mary Chain ever locating as much latent euphoria in their "Head On" as the Pixies do, and "Planet Of Sound", "Alec Eiffel" and "The Sad Punk" are all crunchingly awesome highlights. In fact, after they close with a gigantic "Gigantic" it's impossible to see what they can return with, having surely played every song of significance in their catalogue. So comprehensive is their set that we don't even notice the lack of "Where Is My Mind?" or "Here Comes Your Man" until they encore with them.


It's a magnificent concert: a better view of the stage would be nice, but otherwise it's hard to see how it could be bettered. Even the sound under the Troxy's overhanging balcony is fine. It's democracy in thrilling action.

The Breeders

Frank Black