Discerning alt-rockers, The Pixies, quite possibly changed the course of history when they released their second studio album, Doolittle on the 17th of April 1989. Arriving only a little over a year after their ground-shattering debut Surfer Rosa (1988), the album's unorthodox marriage of surf and punk rock moves from sweet and melodic to absolutely brutal without warning. A lyrically maniacal songbook of creepy tales with fragmented references to space, religion, sex, mutilation, and pop culture. Thanks to the clean production of Gil Norton, Doolittle was an offbeat exemplar of irony and juxtaposition, more commercially accessible than its predecessor, but no less voracious.
For the pre-Nirvana alternative rock world of the late '80s, Doolittle was a blueprint for the future. The extreme dynamics, stop-start timing and sugary harmonies are explosive, dangerous and jarringly pop - all the ingredients of the '90s commercial formula - paving the way for chart-topping megastars like Nirvana, Radiohead, Bush, Blur, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Pavement … ie; Grunge.
When talking to Rolling Stone in 1994 about writing “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Kurt Cobain graciously confessed: “I was basically trying to rip off The Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard The Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band.” [via Rolling Stone]
So, here are some highlights from the immanent alt-rock album that got the whole grunge party started and will forever sit a cut above the rest for its intellectually intoxicating lyrical content.
Straight out of the gate the album instantly comes alive with grizzly, open-ended imagery and pseudo-scholar, avant-garde narrative jumps. Black Francis gives a frenzied recount of the 1929 surrealist film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buuel and Salvador Dalí, whose most unforgettable scene inspires this sicko-pop gem’s most memorable line: “Slicin’ up eyeballs/I want you to know.” Somehow repulsive and alluring at the same time – it’s the perfect counterpoint to the album as a whole.
“Tame” (Live 1991)
Tell me this isn’t one of the most brutal performances you’ve ever seen! Francis hits you right between the eyes with a scream that comes from somewhere deep and very, very dark. The band are driven by Kim’s ever-present bass, pushing the beat with precision and grace as Francis transgresses from whisper to scream and the whole track erupts. The crowd become willingly helpless passengers at the mercy of the relentless, frantic energy.
“Here Comes Your Man”
Sublime Kim and Frank harmonies at the forefront make “Here Comes Your Man” a perfect pop song delivered with an apathetic twist that gives away the deceptively sunny nature of the track that’s actually about a catastrophic earthquake.
“Dead” (Live 1989)
Joey Santiago's halting guitar sounds a call to arms, mirroring Francis’ screeching, grinding vocal that lyrically nods to the biblical story of David and Bathsheba. It builds in staggered steps to a surprisingly triumphant bridge that's kept evil thanks to the guttural scream's domination.
“Monkey Gone To Heaven”
There’s eerie beauty behind Francis’ doomy rambling as he foretells ecological disaster in this gripping meditation on God and garbage. “Monkey Gone to Heaven” is a personification of man's relationship with the Earth that, when considering the current state of things, puts Francis in the realms of prophet.
“La La Love You”
A rare slice of romance from drummer, Dave Lovering. “La La Love You” is probably the closest thing you’ll ever get to a love song on Planet Pixie.
Frank introduces the song with the confidence of a preacher as he and Kim stick together like glue for a perfectly executed bass and vocal verse. This performance demonstrates the Pixies exquisite execution of extreme dynamics as the instruments weave around each other, pushing, pulling and building a tension that never quite breaks.
Doolittle starts with slicing, so it might as well end with gouging! The thrilling finale is every bit as compelling and surreal as the opening “Debaser.” “Gouge Away” sums up the defining power of a disarmingly inviting album that sonically hangs on a serrated edge.
As complex and unique now as it was 30 years ago, it’s really not hard to see what made Doolittle the imminent on-switch for grunge. Celebrate the 30th anniversary of the alt-rock blitzkrieg that made the 90s a poetic and noisy, mess of pure emotion-driven rock. Listen to Doolittle in its entirety on Spotify:
Listen to Doolittle on Apple Music: