Tag Archives: Poppy Bush Interzone

Ranking favorite Pixies albums

As I explain below, I came to Amer-indie’s Great White Hope too late but fortunately what I listened to was their best album. Then Black Francis/Frank Black’s solo debut, for which the dear leader recruited guitarist Joey Santiago and former Beefheart keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, dominated the spring of my freshman year in college enough that I almost included it below. By the time I heard the rest of the catalog in my mid-twenties the Pixies’ yawps — the confessions of white dudes playing video games in their garages even when they were lucky enough to date girls — were like reading cuneiform; the Breeders and kindred spirit Tanya Donelly made more out of the feral.

But, as their two gold albums testify, the Pixies weren’t at a loss for earning new fans (Modest Mouse are unthinkable without them). The enthusiasm for their 2004 reunion tour, which I saw with an impressively sized posse that September, exceeded my expectations. Many spectators looked like sexually frustrated dudes who (still) played video games; the others, like me, paid their respects, wishing that Deal would hurry with a followup to Title TK already.

1. Trompe Le Monde (1991)

From eyeball illustrations on the sleeve to songs about UFOs, Roswell, the Navajo, and sad punks, the band’s last album has an almost incantatory unity of purpose. The well-chosen Jesus & Mary Chain cover nods toward a contemporary classic and isn’t even the best song. I don’t get complaints that it plays like a Black Francis solo album other than the key presence of Eric Drew Feldman’s keyboard arsenal. No Kim Deal songs, though, but she’d fix that too.

2. Doolittle (1989)

For many fans the breakthrough, despite the choppy sequencing. And it deserves it: Doolittle‘s influence stretched into the next decade and beyond, turning the Pixies into a performance art project on erotic mania in search of referents for use as a chastity belt — a a Boston Wire, if you think about it, and I hope you don’t. “Tame,” my favorite song, no doubt scared Polly Jean Harvey into a recording career. I prefer the UK Surf version of “Wave of Mutilation” first heard on Pump Up the Volume, the 1990 movie variant in which Christian Slater has to unbutton his shirt to share hard truths about being a California teen.

3. Surfer Rosa (1988)

There wasn’t anything this garish and tuneful on the college charts in 1988—maybe if Big Black had had a surf guitar expert and a harmonist and second songwriter as equally singular as Kim Deal. “Bone Machine” and “Where is My Mind?” still startle. Speaking of Big Black, Steve Albini’s production has the feel of a cinder block landing on a sofa—an affect less attractive thirty years later—but this too adds to the sense of air-clearing. Not enough clearing, though. “If anybody touches my stuff, I’ll kill ya,” Kim Deal warned the band, reportedly before a cig break in a conversation added as a preface to “Oh My Golly!” On the evidence of “Gigantic” she wouldn’t have much longer to worry.

4. Bossanova (1990)

The least celebrated of Pixies albums during their first run struggled to peep out of the shadow of “Dig For Fire,” whose jittery rhythm guitar and dull talk-singing is how an Ameri-indie band in the Poppy Bush Interzone would have nodded to Talking Heads. “Is She Weird” might’ve worked if Kim Deal had sung the chorus; otherwise, it plays like an unintended joke on Black Francis himself. Filler like “All Over the World” and “Down to the Well” drags. But I include Bossanova anyway because Joey Santiago’s riffs hung ten throughout. I have a college buddy to thank for loving “Velouria,” an obsessive Jan & Dean-influenced howl that this morning evoked Brett Kavanaugh yelling in a Senate committee room.

Worst Songs Ever: Daryl Hall and John Oates’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Daryl Hall and John Oates – “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #12 in December 1980

When in doubt, record a vestigial cover. Continue reading

Reflections of a Political Man, Part II

He had worse hair than any president since Nixon. “Worse” as in natural – a man with other things on his mind (John Updike, in his classist way, would go further: “closely modeled on the opossum fur of his beloved Arkansas”). He had a low rumbling laugh that suggested an acquaintance with mirth. Most impressively, he stank of sex; it was obvious to anyone with a cerebellum. Continue reading

Reflections of a Political Man

Besides chastisement in front of the class, Alex wasn’t allowed to Go Out and Play, my fourth grade class’ term for recess. Drawing a mustache on the vice president was an act of disrespect; that the Groucho face drag appeared on a Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign poster turned the defilement into an act of treason as perfidious as Alger Hiss’. Continue reading

Worst Songs Ever: Elvis Costello’s “The Other Side of Summer”

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Elvis Costello’s “The Other Side of Summer”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in May 1991 on Modern Rock chart.

It pains me to write this, for the first single from 1991’s Mighty Like a Rose was the first new Elvis Costello release to which I was exposed in real time. I bought the album on the day of my junior prom! The six-note bass line with which it begins, the opening line and exhausted delivery (“The sun struggles up, another beautiful day”) are promising. Then the song kicks in, and only after listening to This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy!!, and even Trust do the shortcomings stand out. Why is he trying so hard with the arrangement? Organ fills. Overdubbed complement vocals (at one point they go “bidi-YEAH bidi-YEAH bidi-YEAH!”). Calliope. A torrent of secondhand cynicism (“Was it a millionaire who said, ‘Imagine no possessions’?”). The way he sings as if talking through the corpse of a dead sweaty cat. His beard. “There are fourteen keyboards on ‘The Other Side of Summer,’ all playing the same thing, but nobody’s going to sit and count them,” Costello said proudly. Continue reading