Doolittle is inarguably a modern classic. But this one, released directly after it in 1991, though I can't call it better, will always be my favorite Pixies record. It is not mellow, except for a few disturbingly sporadic oases. It contains none of the guiltless joy found in Gigantic or Here Comes Your Man. It combines sadness with anger with confusion--seeming not so much a documentation of any one loss as a mighty shrine to the epic power of loss itself. It leaves me shaken but strangely consoled every time.
Right from the start, the raw distortion of Cecilia Ann assaults you, leaving wavy echoes behind the chords. That's right folks, it's surf rock, three years before its Pulp Fiction comeback. No lyrics here. Just the burn, and those ashes on the beach.
No lyrics are given for Rock Music either, but there are vocals. And every line is an unintelligible scream. On the live version on Death to the Pixies you can make out "ALL THE WAY GONE!!" at one point. Really, does anything else matter? This furious charging railroad blasts into you. If the hyper style shifting of the first three Pixies records is any indication, the next track should be a let-up.
And Velouria is, in a way. In another, it's worse. Joey Santiago's axe weeps out the descending melody and we find ourselves in a calm space. But as each elegiac chorus carries us upward our sense of mourning deepens. Francis waits for the future, to be reunited with his Annabel Lee.
Continuing the "girl's names" theme, Allison is a bit of a lift, though not nearly as poppy as the Elvis Costello tune of the same name. Here Francis mentions outer space (the cover of the album is a little red plastic planet), which would become an obsession, for the first time.
Is She Weird drops us back into scary-cool land. Staccato, abrasive, mostly one-note melody. This tune always makes me think of tooling down the highway with shades on. The bridge leaps out at you before the second chorus, not after, and Kim Deal's ghostly sigh moans lead you gently into...
Ana, another gentle respite. Still, you can't call it happy; more bittersweet. You can almost see the slow waves at sunset in the undulating guitar line. Franics double-tracks his vocal in octaves rather than letting Kim harmonize; this would become an annoying trend on almost every track of Trompe Le Monde, the next album. Again, as in Velouria, the melody is stated first by the guitar, then the vocal, not placed in a traditional guitar solo slot.
All Over The World is the album's longest track, its keystone. Warren Ellis, a rabid Pixies fan, ganked this title for the first Planetary graphic novel. The opening beat is dancey, even playful, as Francis murmurs, "Hey babe. How ya doin. Can I be your boy?" Soon the cute little waterfall melody drops in, but the lyrics aren't the only thing making you think of separation. Then the chorus brings ugly snarls, and you can't tell if "I will meet you over there" is meant to be full of hope or dread. Then at the end, the "All I am..." section opens up like a secret door into a wasteland. Just when they push it to an acerbic peak, when Francis asserts that even if his ride is depressing it's his, dammit, the primary melody comes rolling back underneath. A full circle journey, and now you're tired.
And then. Oh God, and then. A tiny flicker of light in the darkness. Three guitars, all whispering different melodies to each other. They recognize their disparate idenities and then join together, jumping up and down. Francis strums and strums and never repeats his rhythm. And when that chorus washes over you like the tide, it brings calm and peace with energy. The second time it kicks in, the band is so awed they can't even sing, they just have to listen to each other. Context is everything. You have to Dig For Fire, you can't stumble upon it. Being stuck in all this muck makes it shine that much brighter.
From fire to water, with Down to the Well we return to the black. More screaming, more future meetings. Blown Away is another plaintive call of interstellar loss and Hang Wire another spout of ugly rage. By now, the songs are blending together a little, and you realize you will never untangle the mysteries in the lyrics. We're going higher but scratching deeper.
Then, The Happening. Kim plops down some notes that would be funk over a different beat, and Francis bellows into the sparse texture about "a ranch called number 51". Yes, it's Roswell paranoia, years before the X-Files and Independence Day brought the name to mainstream attention. But Francis envisions peaceful cohabitation, not invasion, and his falsetto soothes you in the chorus, where the chords are clearly jacked from doo-wop, likely a deliberate evocation of the period.
Stormy Weather isn't particularly inspired. It's repetitive and lurches on a couple verses too long. The only lyrics are "It is time for stormy weather." All I can think this refers to is the rift between Kim and Francis that would break up the band a year later.
Havalina, the final track, is acoustic: gentle and beautiful, like the desert breeze described. Somehow they've arrived at a place more fragile than Doolittle or Surfer Rosa could ever nourish. The opposite of the previous track, the moment is gone too soon, and the adventure is over.
Lyrically, Francis began experiments here that would carry him into vast degrees of wacky rhyme scheme tomfoolery on subsequent albums. Hang Wire contains more than one haiku. The Happening's end section is a classic Shakespearean sonnet. And Ana is an acrostic-- the first letter of each line spells out S U R F E R, which Ana is. He later hid his girlfriend's full name in Speedy Marie, much more skillfully.
And, of course, this album contains, to my ears, not one iota of bossa nova. However, my CD was lost some time ago; I did this writeup from memory.
wunderhorn1 says The bossa nova is in Hang Wire, right after francis delivers the line "I'll bossa nova with ya". The shakers and woodblock are play the bossa rhythm over Lovering's drums, and drop out in time for the next chorus.