Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top 25 Albums #17. Doolittle - Pixies

Chronologically the third member in what I consider to be alternative rock's trifecta of influential albums (the other two being Pet Sounds and The Velvet Underground & Nico), Doolittle is vital--and that's an understatement.

 Look, I like Nevermind: it's got good songs that are well sung; but as paradigm-shifting as it was culturally, musically it's kind of a rip-off. Following up the charming but rough debut that was Surfer Rosa, Black Francis and company took a simple gimmick--the loud vs. soft dynamic--and built an album around it that was so Olympian, it catalyzed the sea change in rock that would define a decade. Post punk but pre grunge, the Pixies of the late 80's were caught in an awkward time between mass socio-musical movements. The opportunity to be had in their case was artistic rather than commercial, and the band capitalized on it. A strange blend of surf rock, hardcore punk, and bubblegum pop, Doolittle is one of the most riveting musical concoctions I've yet tasted.

 The album kicks off with a few seconds of unenthusiastic bass before exploding into sheer mania on "Debaser." This first song, which references the early surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou, introduces the record's primary lyrical theme--mutilation ("Slicing up eyeballs / I want you to know")--as well as its skin-searing, hair-pulling, bed-jumping energy. The rhythm guitar may be life-affirming (the chord that "Debaser" ends on is just perfect), but to be honest, all of the sounds on Doolittle pale in comparison to Frank Black's psychotic whispers and screams. The second track, "Tame," epitomizes the group's influential approach to volume, with eerily restrained verses that are each followed by the pulverizing chorus in which Black Francis, in typical fashion, goes for broke in his vocal cord-wrecking repetition of the song's title. "Wave of Mutilation" is a surprisingly memorable slice of surf-rock sweetness. "Here Comes Your Man" is the band's brightest, most adored single. Unabashedly bubblegum, the song's joy transcends genre and exists simply as pop. By this point in in the album (if not earlier), the listener will likely have realized what a lovable, funny, and versatile singer Black Francis is, and will have developed a lasting fondness for him. 

From "Monkey Gone to Heaven"'s claim that "GOOOOD IS SEVEN!!" to the strained, perverse laughter that begins "Mr. Grieves" to the corny whistling in "La La Love You" to the ringing guitar build at the tail end of "No. 13 Baby" to the disarming sincerity in "Hey", Doolittle, as twisted and violent as it may seem, is really just one delight after another.

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