Alternative rockers The Pixies take on big themes on “Doolittle”

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Boston-based alternative rockers The Pixies released their sophomore album, “Doolittle” March 1989. In the almost 30 years since the groundbreaking album, the album has been released on vinyl and been presented in an extended form for its 25th anniversary. But the 2004 version of “Doolittle” helps to recapture the brash, thoughtful sound and approach that marked The Pixies’ work.

The Pixies and American alternative rock

The Pixies first album, “Surfer Rosa” (1988) is highly regarded but didn’t make a widely recognized name for the band. However, the group’s follow-up album, “Doolittle,” practically made the band synonymous with American alternative rock.

The group came to prominence during what can be called the “120 Minutes”-era of MTV. The alternative music show aired on Sunday nights and focused on alternative music from around the globe. Beyond the cable network, and years later, the “Left of the Dial” box set also aided in helping to make The Pixies a new household name. Fans who were either too young to remember when The Pixies were first famous, or who had forgotten them, suddenly had a re-introduction to the band. The group’s single, “Monkey Gone to Heaven” (from the album “Doolittle”) is included on “Left of the Dial.”

The band’s sound is guitar and drum-heavy. Songs like “Monkey Gone to Heaven” never pretend to be anything other than moody rock songs with bigger themes. The band’s approach is authentic, forthright and loud.

The Pixies’ lineup at this time consisted of Black Francis on vocals and guitar, Kim Deal on bass, David Lovering on drums, and Joey Santiago on lead guitar.

“Monkey Gone to Heaven”

From the first note, listeners are jolted awake, either from their expectations of alternative rock or literally. The big sound created by guitar, drums, and bass is given nuance by a string line that sounds as if it dances just above the other instruments. Added to that are cryptic lyrics that depict creatures that rule the sky and the sea. Then, somber backing vocals intone “This monkey’s gone to heaven.” The line is repeated as it comprises the chorus.

Then, the singer, Black Francis, presents listeners with a system that equates man, the devil and God with the numbers 5, 6, and 7 respectively. Even if listeners haven’t caught every word, the ideas of a battle between good and evil, the environment, and more have been made clear.

“Debaser” by The Pixies

Another example of in-your-face alternative rock from The Pixies. But “Debaser” is different from “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” For one, the title indicates that it is a song about someone who wants to morally corrupt others. The song sounds as though it has a focused target. Part of the lyrics which can’t always be taken literally, find the lead singer declaring “I am un chien andalusia.”

Audiences with a rudimentary understanding of French, can translate this to “I am an Andalusian dog.” And of course, when humans are metaphorically referred to as dogs, it is usually not a compliment. The song begins with the narrator discussing his movie in which he slices up eyeballs. Students of surrealism will recognize this disturbing element from a film by Luis Bunuel that had been written by Salvador Dali. The film dates from the 1920s and is called “Un Chien Andalou.”The backing vocals simply sing the word “debaser” in a high, almost haunting register.

The bigger ideas of The Pixies helped to fashion a place for the group in America’s thought-pop culture. The songs on “Doolittle” did not offer easy answers or present simple lyrics that can be sung without thinking too much about what they mean. Listeners, young as they might have been at the time, were required to have knowledge beyond the basics to understand the songs, especially “Debaser.” The songs on “Doolittle” have retained their edge. This vinyl version is a must-have for fans. For more information, click here: http://store.lemonwire.com/pixies-doolittle-652637090512.html

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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