Wednesday, November 7, 2007
No. 226: Doolittle
Band: The Pixies
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Before underground/alternative (the term "alternative" sounds positively ludicrous in 2007, doesn't it?) music became the dominant form of rock and roll in the 1990s, the Pixies were one of the bands that so hugely influenced the bands that did make it big. The quietLOUDquiet (the name of a documentary on the band) dynamic was, frankly, stolen by Nirvana when Nirvana becamse the biggest band in the world.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Well, for one, the Pixies stole quietLOUDquiet dynamic from Boston's "More Than A Feeling." I'm not a big fan of Frank Black (or, as he calls himself, Black Francis) and I find his songwriting mostly tedious. However, it's impossible to discount the import of this band or this record.
Best song: "Here Comes Your Man" is positively Velvet Underground-esque.
Worst song: "Tame" stinks. It's just not very good.
Is it awesome?: It sounds dated.
It's easy to put the quietLOUDquiet thing on the Pixies, as far as their monumental contribution to alternative rock (again, that term freaks me out a little), but the overall production -- the bass line start, underwater sound, hard mid-string melody, scream thing vocals, start/stop drums -- sounds remarkably like the lesser alternative rock acts from the 1990s. Speaking specifically about "Debaser," the song could easily be a Letters To Cleo song if you switch the backup (Kim Deal) and lead vocals.
This makes it hard for me to enjoy the Pixies. I mean, there is a familiarity there impossible to deny; I grew up during the 1990s, so that music is basically in my DNA. Still, I don't prefer the J. Crew flannel shirt/Dr. Martens set anymore -- we live in a digital world, after all -- and I don't listen to Belly/early Nada Surf/Letters To Cleo/Everclear/etc. anymore.
Here's something I'd forgotten about The Pixies: The bass really controls these songs. Kim Deal's bass either starts or is high in the mix on every song. The guitar on "Wave Of Mutilation" sounds mostly to be window-dressing as the low end controls the song.
Still, the songs on "Dolittle" -- the band's breakout album and once ranked by NME writers as the second best album of all time (!) -- are pretty amazing. The band's lyrics touch on numerous subjects, including the Bible, mortality and (of course) sex. "Monkey Gone To Heaven" is, basically, a song that questions religion, "Here Comes Your Man" is about earthquakes and hobos -- seriously --, while "Debaser" is based on "Un chien andalou," an experimental French film. Frank Black, you had me at "French film."
It's dated, for sure, but I'm growing to enjoy "Doolittle." It'll be interesting to see what "Surfer Rosa" brings when I review that one, as my own personal deity produced it.