Pixies have re-mobilised with a brand new EP, a change of personnel and a UK tour coming later this year, Getintothis’ Joseph Viney selects ten of the best from Frank Black’s iconic alt-rockers.
Pixies have always been a group that have stood out. Not that they have gone out of their way to do that; not aesthetically anyway.
Frank Black (vocals/guitar), nowadays facing calls from younger types wondering just how and why Hank Schraeder is fronting a band, has always seemed a genial, quiet fellow beneath the stocky frame and howls that emanate from the stage when Pixies are in town.
Joey Santiago (guitar) wails away on his axe while looking as if he’s strapped up straight from work. Dave Lovering (drums) has a professorial air about him while recently-departed bassist Kim Deal (more on her later) always looked laid-back and mischievous beneath an ice-cold veneer.
It was Pixies’ predilection for noise, surreality and energy that got them noticed and around a quarter of a century later, still has us talking now. After a few years on the circuit in recent years, giving fans hit-laden concerts by the bucket full, Pixies have finally struck out with new material. It was worth the wait.
EP1 benefits most from its strong, clear production and wanderings in a vaguely different direction.
Opener Andro Queen is pensive and sweet and Another Toe, following immediately after, makes with a big, glossy chorus. It’s new, fresh and yet undeniably Pixies.
The EP’s centrepiece and standout track is Indie Cindy, a song described by Black as a meditation on fan response to their first real bout of new material in some time and new line-up. Ah yes, a personnel change. Some may call it sacrilege, but after Kim Deal elected to leave the group, Deal was replaced by…erm…another female bassist called…erm…Kim. Seamless!
Kim Shattuck slots into Pixies nicely and has the necessary pedigree to make it all work. Pixies play Manchester Apollo on Thursday November 21. Expect the classics, a couple of newbies and a lesson from one of the greats in how to do it properly.
On that note, let’s have a look at Getintothis’ top ten songs from their first run.
1. Velouria from Bossanova (1990)
As good a song as this, the story of the accompanying anti-video bears repeating. As the song hit the UK charts, the group were approached by Top of the Pops (ask your dad!) for permission to play the song on their show.
Alas, one snag: BBC rules dictated that only singles with videos could be played on the show. Ever contrary, Pixies decided to stretch out 23 seconds of very amateur parkour for the song’s duration and present a masterclass in mustering effort without actually doing very much.
Funny certainly. The kicker? TOTP decided not to feature the song anyway.
2. Planet of Sound from Trompe Le Monde (1991)
Frank Black’s lyrics were ridden with oblique references and science fiction tropes, perhaps none moreso than this utter slice of heaven from their last full LP.
It has every element of what made Pixies great: Kim Deal’s thudding, perpetual bass, a short but mesmeric solo, a real sense of the uncanny and whines, clicks and screams in all the right places.
Despite the song’s thematic ruminations on the vast expanses of space, you just want to hear this go off in a small, dark room.
3. Where Is My Mind? from Surfer Rosa (1988)
Much like Radiohead’s Creep, there was a time when Where Is My Mind? was commandeered for its overarching message by pEoPlE wHo TyPe ThEiR sTaTuS uPdAtEs LiKe ThIs.
You know the type we mean; willingly weird, desperate to look anguished and creative.
Such simplicity does the song a disservice. Black once again deals with what can be seen as weighty issues with odd, childlike imagery.
The song gained a second wind via its inclusion on the Fight Club OST and its crazed final scene. That it renders the sounds of a coming apocalypse is only fitting.
4. Here Comes Your Man from Doolittle (1989)
Another anti-video of sorts for Pixies, this time the suspiciously upbeat surf-pop of Here Comes Your Man is given an almost chilling video; the bands members looking like pop mannequins as they ‘mime’.
Researching this piece led Getintothis to a forum thread that sought to tear this song apart, deriding it as overly-simplistic, lyrically inept and out of place canonically. Erm, sorry? What more do you people want for chrissakes?
This song captures Pixies to a tee; short and sweet, bizarre undertones and a hook (or is it a lick?) that sticks in your head.
5. Debaser from Doolittle (1989)
Ah, what indie disco night wouldn’t be complete without this little doozy?
Its intro skating into earshot on clear ice, the song doesn’t let up from the get go. Proving that the best bands provide not just a musical service but an educational one, Debaser heavily references Luis Buñuel’s 1929 surrealist movie Un Chien Andalou.
Ok, all go on three…”SLICING UP EYEBALLS! OH HO HO HO!”
6. Monkey Gone To Heaven from Doolittle (1989)
A song literally about a dead primate or something deeper that straddles man’s preoccupation with destroying their own environment?
What do you think? It’s the latter of course, and Black’s thoughts and words on the destruction of our oceans is typically tinged with oddness.
“On one hand, it’s [the ocean]this big organic toilet. Things get flushed and repurified or decomposed and it’s this big, dark, mysterious place“, Black later said about the song, “It’s also a very mythological place where there are octopus’s gardens, the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, and mermaids.”
If, as the song screams at us, that “God is seven“, then whatever ethereal element that informs Douglas Adams’ famous “42” must be six times as powerful. Something for you to chew over anyway.
7. Alec Eiffel from Trompe Le Monde (1991)
We all love architecture. We all love the French. Wait, hang on…*sound of paper rustling*
The song references the French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who designed the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. As with the best pieces of writing, Francis simply thought it was a “fascinating subject” to compose a song about.
His enthusiasm shows, and from the gonzo high octane opening and cute rhyming quad (“Pioneer of aerodynamics, they thought he was a real smart alec. He thought big, they called it a phallic; they didn’t know he was panoramic“) it clocks in as perhaps Pixies’ most underrated tune.
8. Wave Of Mutilation from Doolittle (1989)
Sounding a little like one of those direct-to-DVD schlock horror efforts (Mega Shark vs. Dick Cheney, My Mum Is Made Of Butter etc etc), Wave Of Mutilation is as opposed to itself as its title suggests.
Black almost gently croons out the morbid lyrics as the song gives way to a thudding, double time chorus. Beautiful stuff. As Max Headroom told us to when shilling dark carbonated soft drinks way back in the 80s, “catch the wave!”
9. U-Mass from Trompe Le Monde (1991)
Both Black and Santiago are alumni of the University of Massachusetts, and with U-Mass, it’s a little hard to tell whether they enjoyed it or not.
While it can be construed as a sarcastic riposte to their former peers (“We’re not just kids, to say the least. We got ideas, to us that’ s dear“), it might simply be a character study of the archetypal ‘right-on’ student. We were too once, remember?
10. Tony’s Theme from Surfer Rosa (1988)
Who is Tony? What is Tony? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? etc etc
It ultimately doesn’t matter, as Pixies’ superhero, so energetically and joyfully introduced to us by Kim Deal, is of a similar description to the band as given earlier in this article; plain sounding, maybe even plain looking, but in possession of enviable powers.
All the while, Black screams about a guy popping wheelies and falling off his bicycle. Well, what did you expect?
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