Pixies - Come On Pilgrim... It's Surfer Rosa - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pixies - Come On Pilgrim... It's Surfer Rosa

by Jon Burke Rating:10 Release Date:2018-09-28
Pixies - Come On Pilgrim... It's Surfer Rosa
Pixies - Come On Pilgrim... It's Surfer Rosa

Returning to the albums of my youth is all too often either a chore, or a bore, and usually both at once. Few of us were born with an instant appreciation for great music and so we gravitate toward the low-hanging sonic fruit that appeals to our basest instincts. For every Radiohead, there are a dozen Coldplays one must wade through first to achieve a deeper appreciation of exactly how great OK Computer really is. But, every once in a while, a band catches your attention and, decades on, refuses to let go; their universal appeal a direct result of their unparalleled, undeniable, unbelievable greatness. There are few better examples of this phenomena than the Pixies and, as demonstrated by their first two proper records, Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa. On the thirtieth anniversary of their release, the Pixies' label, 4AD, has kindly re-released the groundbreaking records in a single package with a bonus live record included. The results do nothing to diminish the power and perfection of a band responsible for nothing less than completely reshaping the direction of popular music.

I am not going to waste too much time going over the highlights of Come On Pilgrim or Surfer Rosa -- so many better writers than I have already done that to death. Instead, I will offer up just a few points about each record that struck me as I listened again to this collection of songs. Nothing I can say here will equal anything close to the power of actually hearing these records but I hope these notes will inspire you to listen again, with fresh ears:

Come On Pilgrim

"Caribou" -- There is no pop cultural analog to the first time you hear a riff like the surf-rock-meets-country-meets-post-punk-meets-blues riff opening "Caribou" which, in turn, opens Come On Pilgrim. In a 2014 interview with NME, Frank Black cited "Caribou" as one of his favorite songs to play live. He went on to note that "Caribou" is a song about "rebirth" but, for my money, "Caribou" as always been a song about a lycanthropic being with the power to switch between being human and the titular reindeer. When Black Francis scream: "REPENT!" one can almost feel the transformation taking place. "Caribou" introduces audiences to the Pixies' famous loud-quiet-loud formula too.

"Levitate Me" -- Like so much of the Pixies' output, "Levitate Me" reveals the way the band, from day one, crafted their music into some of the catchiest of earworms ever recorded. The repetitive choruses (Elevator lady, elevator lady Elevator lady, elevator lady Lady, levitate me), the catchphrases ("Come on pilgrim!/You know he loves you!") and the layers of gorgeous harmonies and melodies which somehow made the pop-punk aesthetic simultaneously edgier and more appealing--an auditory take on the Beatles haircut.

Surfer Rosa

"Bone Machine" -- Lest you forget, the Pixies' rhythm section is a force of nature. The intro to "Bone Machine", with David Lovering's hammering drums and Kim Deal's bouncing bass is and will always be the best part of the song. It's also the first moment listeners realized that Steve Albini recorded the record--a fact that, oddly, is both over-hyped and under-appreciated at the same time. Regardless of your position on Surfer Rosa's place in halls of popular music, or its sonic brilliance, one thing is certain: Joey Santiago's guitar, David Lovering's drums and Kim Deal's bass never sounded better on record.

"Gigantic" -- This song is either about a giant penis or about a giant chord progression. Either way, it's a catchy piece of pop that showcases the band's secret weapon, Kim Deal. Content to usually play her bass and harmonize, "Gigantic" is one of the few times Deal takes the mic and shows-off her rusty, gorgeously imperfect voice. "Gigantic" is the soundtrack to a million fans falling in big-big love with Kim Deal.

"Where Is My Mind" -- If "Caribou" slaps you across the face on first listen then "Where Is My Mind" melts you down into a bubbling pool of slag that quickly assumes the tidal properties of the ocean and you become waves. Listening to this song is a collective experience, even if you're alone. The lupine "wooo-woo" howls which periodically pop-up giving the feel of membership in a pack. It's as if we're all going insane together and somehow that's ok...

"Vamos (Surfer Rosa)" -- The version of "Vamos" from Surfer Rosa shows the evolution of The Pixies like no other track. The original version, from Come On Pilgrim is fine but, when held up against the Surfer Rosa version, is clearly lacking. Whether it was Albini's imposed discipline or the band's own natural cohesion, "Vamos" goes from throwaway to standout in the breadth of one album.

Live from The Fallout Shelter

The bonus material from Come On Pilgrim... It's Surfer Rosa, is a live-in-concert broadcast, first aired in late 1986 on WJUL-FM in Lowell, Mass. It captures the band early-on, cranking-out speedy, noisy versions of "Holiday Song" and "Isla de Encanta" as well as a droning, truly epic take of "Caribou". Another really enjoyable, if poorly recorded, Pixies classic which shows-up here is "Subbacultcha" -- a track which didn't make its way onto an actual Pixies record until Trompe Le Monde. Even in this raw recording, the back and forth between Black and Deal makes for a really great vocal pairing despite their notorious interpersonal challenges.

The final track, "Pixies Interview", is a six-minute interview with the band immediate following their Fallout Shelter performance. It gives a brief introduction to the band and captures everyone in their youthful glory, having fun with one another, and savoring the afterglow of a really great set. The interview ends with the band requesting the DJ play Captain Beefheart's "Grow Fins" -- a track Santiago describes as real music not just "barcore", the category to which he claimed the Pixies belonged. Fittingly, "Grow Fins", a bluesy bit of Beefheart brilliance, is one of the more accessible songs in the notoriously dense and complicated band's catalog. Leave it to the Pixies to bring challenging music to the masses, make it easy to digest and then to blow our collective minds.


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