Pixies â Bossanova (Revisited)
Every month we take a look back at some of the records that have had a huge impact on the music world and this time the Pixies take centre stage. A great band relies on friction, combustible tension between members, hatred even. With this comes great music. By the time Bossanova came along the Pixies were at breaking point, a feat all the more remarkable considering the last album they released was the acclaimed Doolittle they should have been swimming in the dollars, picki... (continued)
Every month we take a look back at some of the records that have had a huge impact on the music world and this time the Pixies take centre stage. A great band relies on friction, combustible tension between members, hatred even. With this comes great music. By the time Bossanova came along the Pixies were at breaking point, a feat all the more remarkable considering the last album they released was the acclaimed Doolittle they should have been swimming in the dollars, picking up the Grammys and lapping up the plaudits of their mammoth, swelling fan base. Instead Kim Deal was coerced to the background by the mad dictator Black Francis; a man whose maddening obsession with Surf Rock and Extraterrestrials had bubbled to the surface plunging the future of the band into grave danger. Her perfect riposte came when The Breeders preceded Bossanova with Pod, the first fruits of Kim Dealâs creative pent up energy. The band had always been the vision of Frank Black, Black Francis, or Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV to give him his full name. When he dropped out of his studies to start a band he was the one who recruited his good buddy and handy guitarist Joey Santiago and stuck an ad. in a local paper searching for a bassist into HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ and Peter, Paul and Mary (folkies who sang âPuff the Magic Dragonâ), Deal then invited David Lovering to drum for the band. What is it with drummers being the final piece in the jigsaw? Seldom do you get a portly front man, who resembled a cross between Charlie Brown and Ignatius J. Reilly, a drummer that looks like a sexual deviant, a hip looking Filipino-American Guitar Genius and an innocent little lady who went under the moniker Mrs. John Murphy as members of a prominent rock and roll band. The Pixies sure didnât look aesthetically pleasing but they transcended posturing and the deliberate coolness of the indie rock scene, they just were. Signing to 4AD on the back of The Purple Tape demo, eight of the seventeen songs from that tape made up debut release Come On Pilgrim, an EP that presented all the quirky, shrieking hallmarks of the Pixies sound. Who else but Steve Albini could have produced the visceral first album Surfer Rosa, an album broken up by the gorgeous melodic songs such as âWhere is My Mind?â and âGiganticâ. Then came the bands major label debut and some would say their finest hour Doolittle, but with major label backing comes great responsibility. More press, longer tours, the band found themselves stuck in the grind and at each otherâs throats. So they took a short break. During this break Frank Black and his wife drove across the States on a Kerouacian voyage; night time drives stoked up paranoid visions about UFOs and creatures from Outer Space, the sight of the crisp, flowing West Coast waves at the end of the journey reawakened Blackâs interest in Surf Rock, so it made sense to open Bossanova with a cover of the classic Surftones instrumental âCecilia Annâ. âRock Musicâ cranks things up to eleven, a barrage of abrasive guitar, brutal backbeat and that wild Black Francis scream. A couple of minutes into Bossanova and your head is spinning, you think you are about to be devoured by a body rocking beast. But boy, are you wrong. Black gets reflective. âVelouriaâ is an ode to a velveteen mountain lady from Northern California. The song was accompanied by possibly the worst music video ever made, with a slo-mo shot of the band clambering over rocks in a quarry. âAllisonâ follows, it is not another ode to a chick as many believe but a tribute to Mose Allison, the legendary pianist, the song is a frolicking fifties surf rocker. Alien aqua women prevail as Blackâs daydream drones are released on âIs She Weirdâ âI know youâre rich in / good clothes and little things / your mind is fancy / (and your car is bitchinâ). The wistful âAnaâ conjures a coagulating repetitive gorge of soothing surf guitars, reminiscent of sitting around a campfire at night on the beach drinking a tropical cocktail, or since we are in a recession, a carton of Um Bongo. For what feels like an epic Pixies song, coming in at over five minutes âAll Over the Worldâ hinted what the future might hold for the band, teetering on the brink. With Santiago freak-outâs and Black at his most mellow. Could a band that sweated profusely when the big hand went around the clock twice be breaking out into self indulgence? Fears of this are quickly dispelled by âDig For Fireâ on which the band does a jolly good Talking Heads impersonation. âDown to the Wellâ is real laid back, borderline lazy. The song was the first song the band ever played together driven by a minimalist guitar line. The strongest track on the album is âThe Happeningâ, a song which contains a wonderful Deal harmony. Again we are in alien territory with the song concerning an UFO landing in Vegas. Government conspiracies, Roswell, the eerie detective guitar noodling, the riotous Black Francis yelps, floating on heavenly licks. Maybe this is the Bowie influence; Ziggy Stardust and the Silver Surfer careening on a candy coated sugar rush. Frank Blacks lyrics carry a sci-fi bent, galaxies far far away, the kind of intergalactic shit you get in Star Track, somewhat nonsensical, lyrical, poetic steam-of-consciousness bonkers gibberish. I bet he was baked in front of the TV, The Jetsons was blaring out in the background and he scribbled half the lyrics on the back of a pizza box. âBlown Awayâ for me would be a perfect sail in the sunset album closer, instead it feels a little ahead of its time, a love strong about pent up emotion. The song was recorded during the bands sessions in Berlin. I think the wall was still up back then. The rest of the album dribbles out like a runny fart. I appreciate the use of Haiku in the lyrics of âHang Wireâ but by now we are overloaded with information, confounded in early nineties satellite paranoia. âStormy Weatherâ is awfully lackadaisical. But the dreamy âHavalinaâ salvages the latter part of Bossanova, itâs apparently a love song recalling a story about Frank and his girlfriend getting chased by a wild pig. But itâs more like staring at the sunset on a Hawaiian beach. Bossanova needed a supernova single. Throughout their career the Pixies had numerous fine songs, some of those songs were pretty much perfect, yet they never had the massive single, in a time where singles mattered. There was no âSmells Like Teen Spiritâ that ultimate ice breaker (Nirvana perfected the Pixies template of Loud quiet Loud). The Pixies devoted, die hard following argued about the band selling out just after Bossanova was released, they still do to this day, indeed the lucrative reunion tours get their goat even more then signing to a major label did. Bossanova is not the album that has come from a bloated corporate band, but one that has been adorned with a sheen of polish provided by Super Producer Gil Norton who reprising his producer role from Doolittle spent the longest period of studio time, with recordings taking place over nine long weeks. The sound is subtle and less visceral. Black Francis sings, tones down the squeals, turns down Kim Deal and grooves off of Joey Santiagoâs finest riffs. Bossanova is not a masterpiece, but it deserves more than to be considered the black sheep in the Pixies back catalogue.
PixiesBossanovaDoolittleKim DealThe BreedersFrank BlackBlack FrancisSteve Albini