Album released this week in… 1988: Pixies – Surfer Rosa
FOR MANY bands that emerged in latter part of the 20th century, the Pixies were their musical idols. Acts like Radiohead and Nirvana worshipped the Alt-Gods and the Pixies are often considered to be the original Indie band. Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering formed Pixies by the way of various chance meetings, newspaper ads and college dorms, releasing their debut EP, entitled Come On Pilgrim in late 1987. But it wasn’t until the following album, Surfer Rosa, emerged half a year later that the band really began to make waves.
Producer Steve Albini managed to capture the near-gritty quality of Black Francis’ voice and Joey Santiago’s guitar, with Deal’s bass and Lovering’s drums completing the line-up nicely. The band’s simplistic songs proved you didn’t have to have complicated structures and guitar solos to make good music. Deal in particular had never played bass before joining the band and her grooves and riffs are often viewed as some of the best of all time. Francis’ voice screams and yelps its way through songs like ‘Vamos’ and ‘Broken Face’, often reverting to Spanish, a complete no holds barred performance.
Thanks to Albini’s production and the band’s performance, you’ll find many songs on Surfer Rosa to be pure scrappy Rock music. Album opener ‘Bone Machine’ features near out of tune ‘harmonies’, with Santiago’s grungy guitar echoing Francis’ yells. It’s a similar situation in ‘River Euphrates’, with Kim Deal’s child-like, Mo Tucker-esque vocals standing out noticeably against the backdrop of chaotic music. Segmenting these episodes of madness are snippets of ‘studio banter’, which Albini recorded without the band’s knowledge. It adds a nice personal touch to the record, while contributing to the DIY feel of Surfer Rosa.
Of course the real standout tracks come in the form of ‘Gigantic’ and ‘Where Is My Mind?’. The former presents Deal in front woman position as she earnestly sings about a relationship with an African-American man, her bass line snaking its way into a generation’s ears. It’s hard to describe what makes ‘Gigantic’ such a great tune; it seems to be another case of the simpler the better. ‘Where Is My Mind’ really became popular when it was used during the closing scene of Fight Club. With its catchy guitar riff and Deal’s haunting backing vocals, it’s not hard to see why it’s Pixies’ most popular tune.
Without Surfer Rosa we wouldn’t have Nevermind, In Utero, Rid of Me, Pablo Honey, Siamese Dream and countless other seminal albums of the Nineties. Pixies were a force of nature in the Indie world and while their sophomore album, Doolittle, may be more often seen as their magnum opus, Surfer Rosa was the album that kick-started the wild ride that was the Pixies.
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