Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Pixies

  • Surfer Rosa [4AD/Rough Trade, 1988] B
  • Doolittle [4AD/Elektra, 1989] B+
  • Bossanova [4AD/Elektra, 1990] A
  • Trompe le Monde [4AD/Elektra, 1991] A-
  • Death to the Pixies [Elektra, 1997] Neither
  • Pixies at the BBC [Elektra, 1998] ***
  • Pixies [SpinArt, 2002] A-
  • Best of Pixies: Wave of Mutilation [4AD, 2004] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Surfer Rosa [4AD/Rough Trade, 1988]
By general consensus the Amerindie find of the year, and I'll say this for them: they're OK. Aurally articulate but certainly not clean, much less neat, with guitar riffs you actually notice and a strong beat that doesn't owe any subgenre. Feature a woman as equal partner--no separatism or blatant gender aggression. If I was on the lookout for contemporaries who proved my world wasn't coming to an end, I might overrate them too. In fact, maybe I still do. B

Doolittle [4AD/Elektra, 1989]
They're in love and they don't know why--with rock and roll, which is heartening in a time when so many college dropouts have lost touch with the verities. You can tell from the bruising riffs, the rousing choruses, the cute little bass melodies, the solid if changeable beat. But not from any words they sing. They'll improve in direct relation to their improved contact with the outside world. Getting famous too fast could ruin them. B+

Bossanova [4AD/Elektra, 1990]
Though the words are less willful, they're still mostly indecipherable without the crib sheet and still mostly incomprehensible with it--leisure-class kiddies grasping at straws (or women: Black Francis has gone through three girlfriends by cut five) as the solar system bangs and whimpers to a halt. But these collegians are obscurantists no longer. Announcing their newfound religious faith with a surf-metal instrumental ("Cecilia Ann," who's not a girlfriend though Francis loves her best of all), they march out tunes so simple and confident and power riffs so grandly declamatory that you learn to understand the choruses by singing them. The beats are lively. The three-minute songs don't bash you over the head with their punk/pop brevity. Neither do the two-minute songs. If they weren't still a little gothic-surrealist they might even be too easy--but they ain't. A

Trompe le Monde [4AD/Elektra, 1991]
Not as catchy from the git as Bossanova, which with eyeballs all over the cover and escape from terra firma all over the lyric sheet is risky if you want to get a rack jobber's attention or respect. But postpunk formalists-in-spite-of-themselves, a category that includes any consumer/tastemaker who's zoned in on 50 or a hundred relevant albums, would be fools to deny themselves the feast that awaits. These devilkins have the music down, and they never overstay their welcome. A-

Death to the Pixies [Elektra, 1997] Neither

Pixies at the BBC [Elektra, 1998]
exactly the live testament you think they deserve ("Manta Ray," "Wild Honey Band") ***

Pixies [SpinArt, 2002]
Up until Doolittle in 1989, when the tunes blossomed, I pretty much missed this band. Put off by Black Francis's feyness, I sensed what is now clear, that he's a pomo sociophobe of a familiar and tedious sort. Where in retrospect his philosophical limitations seem harmless annoyances, they portended many regrettable developments in irony, junk culture, sexual eccentricity, and other folkways that deserved better. But that wasn't reason enough to resist the music. In such cases, the recommended m.o. is in the destructive element immerse--understand its attractions from the inside, the better to combat or, what fun, succumb to them. Now Surfer Rosa and the Come On Pilgrim EP seem audaciously funny and musically prophetic. I like the way the elements form a whole without coalescing, and the brushed-aluminum patina they got on their punk-pop-art-metal amalgam. I guess these nine Come On Pilgrim outtakes are a little looser and wilder than the stuff they put on the market, but in retrospect once again they're every bit as much a galvanic hoot. A-

Best of Pixies: Wave of Mutilation [4AD, 2004]
The title tune is the catchiest of the 23, but not by much: just one more piece of sensationalism, its fingernail grip on profundity pried away by the unpretentious business sense of a comeback-keyed one-disc best-of. Proudly it claims its central place in what boils down to an amusing and nearly flawless exercise in s&m bubblegum--and not a damn thing more. A