A Beginner’s Guide to Pixies

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Hello! The man you see above is not me. I just shoved a huge picture of his mug at the top of my first blog post to grab your attention. I hope it worked. This blog is going to be my own little slice of the internet (because there aren’t enough of those already) to sound off my views on a range of topics from music and movies, to politics and technology. Please check the ‘Why Should I Read Your Blog?’ page above for my appeal to you readers to stick with me on this crazy new journey. I won’t waste too much time introducing myself here, I’d rather let the blog speak for me. So let’s delve straight into the first topic I would like to cover; one of my favourite bands of all time – Pixies!

Pixies are an alternative rock band formed in 1986, influencing the likes of Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Kurt Cobain, who admitted that he “was basically trying to rip off the Pixies.” Despite their hiatus from 1993 to 2004, they recently contributed to the alternative music scene in 2014 with their newest album, Indie Cindy, after a long period of tensions between Frank Black – the frontman of the band – and Kim Deal, the bassist. The band dealt with many setbacks as a result of these tensions and eventually it culminated in Kim Deal leaving the band in June 2013.

More on the history of the band later, but first here are five of Pixies greatest songs as a little introduction to the band.

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  1. Tame – Doolittle

This song is mental and it captures the ‘loud quiet loud’ approach that Pixies became famous for. This is probably not the best track to recommend to first time listeners of the band, as it’s pretty screamy. No need to worry though, as they have plenty of other tame songs, such as:

2. Monkey Gone to Heaven – Doolittle

Black and the rest of Pixies were notorious for hating to make music videos for their songs, and in particular for miming over the lyrics. In fact, in the music video for Here Comes Your Man – one of their most famous songs and appearing in the movie 500 Days of Summer – Black and Deal kept their mouths open for the duration of the singing parts, and closed for the others. This refusal to conform to the MTV music video culture was probably a key factor in their inability to penetrate the mass market in their time.

3. I Bleed – Doolittle

Another pick from their most commercially successful album – Doolittle. This song reminds me a lot of Tame because of the screechy choruses and the melodic verses. Fans theorise that this song is about wasting away in a 9 to 5 job, making someone else rich off your efforts.

4. The Happening – Bossanova

“They got a ranch they call/Number 51.” Black wrote some pretty weird lyrics in his time on topics ranging from abortion to incest. But this song is quite clearly on the theme of space and aliens, like much of the rest of this fantastic album.

5. La La Love You – Doolittle

In this live version of La La Love You, you can see that the drummer of the band, David Lovering, actually sings the verses. It is actually the only song he sings on in the band’s back catalogue. Interesting fact about Lovering; when Pixies went on their prolonged hiatus in the ’90s, he became a performing magician and opened for Black’s solo act, as well a Deal’s band The Breeders.

The main theme that interests me about Pixies is the tensions that existed all throughout their career between Black and Deal. It began when, after the release of Doolittle, Black stated that “in my own naive way, I want to make records and be a rock star.” Deal became increasingly agitated by the frontman’s growing ego and the creative control that, she believed, he was taking from the rest of the band. After all, Deal had been in a band with her sister Kelley as a teenager and was used to the creative freedom. Black did not see it the same way, saying that, “the […] presumption was that somehow I was like this big, bad, bossy guy and I was ‘Keeping Kimmy out of the band, not letting her sing.’ Which was kind of nonsense. So that irritated me.”

frank_1335265348 A gig in Frankfurt that Deal refused to play and a show at Stuttgart where Black threw a guitar at her, preceded the band’s ‘Fuck or Fight’ tour. According to Joey Santiago, the band’s guitarist, Deal was “headstrong and want[ing] to include her own songs, to explore her own world” but that after what happened in Frankfurt, “they kinda stopped talking.”

After the tour, the band were too exhausted to attend the afterparty and soon Black announced on BBC Radio 5 that the band were having a break… and then faxed the details to the rest of the band later. Charming.

Following the break up, Black went on to pursue a solo project called Frank Black and the Catholics, Deal went back to the band she and her sister had created as teenagers called The Breeders, Santiago and his wife formed their own band, The Martinis, and Lovering, as already mentioned, became a performing magician and opened shows for both Deal and Black over the eleven year split.

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The Breeders were actually very good. Their biggest hit, Cannonball, which was released in 1993 to huge critical acclaim and another song, Drivin’ on 9,  are great tracks. Black, on the other hand, did not fare as well. Personally, with the exception of a few songs, I am not too big on his act with The Catholics. And, it seems, neither were many other fans, as his popularity descended into a small cult following.

In 2004, after some low key rehearsals, Pixies finally announced a fresh new tour and it was extremely well received. The Brixton Academy sold out tickets faster than in their twenty year history. Excitement was raging but a new album was being hindered due to, again, problems in the band. Black gave very contradictory messages over the years, ranging from a new album being a “possibility” or “extremely unlikely.” It was, according to Black, due to Deal’s reluctance to record a new album. She seemed to be happy now that she had The Breeders going and most likely did not want to get sucked back in to the same dynamic with Black that had caused the problems in the first place.

Finally, in 2013, it was announced that Deal had left the band. She was quickly replaced by a new Kim – Kim Shattuck of The Pandoras. She didn’t last long, however, and was fired by the band in November 2013.

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Eventually the band released the album Indie Cindy in 2014, which received a metacritic score of 62/100 and is, in my opinion, one of the weakest of the Pixies’ albums. It has a few great songs, such as the titular Indie Cindy and Silver Snail, but for the most part it sounds kind of mild in comparison to their earlier work. A lot of the zest that comes through on their earlier albums seems to have been lost with age. That’s not to say the album doesn’t have its merits, but for the most part I found it quite forgettable. It certainly doesn’t come close to these albums, which I would regard as my favourites by Pixies, and would recommend you check out:

Doolittle (1989)

I think I’ve made it pretty clear by my top five songs that Doolittle had a huge impact on me. This album is the perfect starting place for anyone trying to get into Pixies, showcasing the louder, screamy songs that Pixies do so well, as well as the more surfy sounding tracks that they were also very good at.

Bossanova (1990)

The penultimate album released before the original line-up was finished, Bossanova tends to showcase more of the slower, emotional, and surfy songs by Pixies.

Come on Pilgrim (1987)

The first offering to the world by Pixies was a mini LP called Come on Pilgrim. Like most debut albums, it sounds a lot more raw and underproduced than their others. It gives a good idea of what Pixies are about, with slower songs like Caribou (shared above) and crazy guitar screeching songs such as I’ve Been Tired (which almost made my top five list). Would definitely recommend.

So that about sums it up! Pixies are a fantastic band who I have been listening to for around five years now and I never get bored of them. They are hard to get in to at first because they sound so strange and chaotic and the lyrics don’t really make any sense. But if you stick with them you will come to appreciate the rhythms, the catchy guitar riffs and you’ll be screaming along with them in no time at all. I was delighted to see them live in London a few years ago and it was absolutely brilliant.

I hope you enjoyed my first blog entry, join me again on Thursday when I will be recommending my five favourite movies of all time. If you enjoyed the blog, please follow, comment etc as any feedback is greatly appreciated. Discussion is also encouraged.

See ya!

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