A band that was more than moderately successful at their peak, but never mainstream super stars… A band who’s legacy only grows more with every passing year… A band that influenced pretty much every great rock band of the last 25 years… A band that I really like, but don’t listen to nearly enough… A band called Pixies, an album called Doolittle.
The most obvious stand out on Doolittle is the quiet-loud-quiet structure. Only a few years later, Smells Like Teen Spirit would use this dynamic to make Nirvana the biggest game changing band since The Beatles. But from album opener Debaser, through to the single Monkey Gone to Heaven, and almost every other track here, Doolittle shows Pixies had already perfected it, and how influential they were on bands like Nirvana.
Frank Black is one of those vocalists who uses the limitations of his voice to their full advantage. When he can’t quite reach a note, or can’t quite hide a flaw, he always finds a way to turn that strain into a little extra emotion, a little extra oomph, a little extra raw edge.
For a band with two guitarists, and for a band where one of those guitarists wrote the majority of the music, they were never scared to let Kim Deal’s bass guitar carry a song. And it’s not as if she’s Les Claypool or Bootsy Collins, slapping out melodious funk. I’m not saying Deal’s four string work is bad or amateur, but it’s never in danger of being accused of flashiness.
She’s not afraid to go low either. I know that seems obvious for a bass player, but usually, when the guitars stop and a bass player gets the chance to shine, they generally movie a little higher up the neck to wring a little more melody out of those fat strings. Here though, on songs like Tame, I Bleed and La La Love You, Deal often works so low, it’s barely audible to the human ear.
Amongst the post punk indie rock they were inventing that would shape post punk indie rock to this day, Doolittle finds time for a couple of quirky little asides that stick out, but not in a way that derails the album. Mr Grives is a jaunty little raga number in the verses, before almost becoming a rockabilly hoot nanny in the choruses. Immediately followed by Crackity Jones, a song that could almost fit in on a Minutemen album.
Pixies have toured pretty extensively in the last few years, even coming to Australia. I never saw them back in the day and I think I’ll keep it that way. As much as listening to Doolittle makes me jealous for missing out on the Pixies the first time around, I also feel like the current version could never real live up to that mythical band I hear when I listen to their albums from back then.