Doolittle was the 1990 album by proto-grunge band (for lack of a better quick description) The Pixies. This album has a lot of personal meaning to me; if there is one, this might be the figurative "album of my life." It was produced by Gil Norton. The album totals forty minutes and three seconds in length over fifteen tracks. It was released by Elektra Records in October of 1990.
As I sat here listening to this album as I wrote this review, the memories of a long past time in my life came flooding back. This album has been with me through so many changes in my life that I cannot possibly count, yet the music right now is still as amazing and new and breathtaking to my ears as it was one cold November evening in 1990. Let's take a walk down memory lane; take my hand and I'll take yours.
I was a music lover throught my entire childhood. I had a vast collection of cassette tapes, both mine and dubbed from friends. My tastes in my earliest years of adolescence, as the 1990s began, mostly ran towards stuff like MC Hammer, but I also owned a dusty tape or two of Metallica and AC/DC as well. Most nights I would drift to sleep listening to the local top forty station, because late in the evenings, come midnight, a DJ would come on, and he would play a heavy dosage of rock-oriented music. Throughout the fall of 1990, this became a highlight of my day, staying up until midnight and hearing all this great rock music slowly lull me to sleep.
I received my first CD player as a birthday gift that year, but CDs were quite expensive then and weren't in very wide release in my area. I only had one CD, which I got along with my player, so I spent the fall doing chores and saving up my change, planning on buying another one.
One cold night in early November, I sat up looking out at the sky, and something I had never heard before came on the radio, and it literally took my breath away. The station played Here Comes Your Man by The Pixies. I heard that song once from beginning to end and I knew immediately that this would be the first CD I would buy with my own money. I had just gotten my first tiny taste of the magic that was Frank Black and The Pixies, and I immediately wanted more.
All I knew was the title of the song; that's all the DJ revealed to me that night. I was worried that the person who ran the local music store wouldn't know what on earth I was talking about. So I quietly walked in there one Saturday afternoon in November of 1990, a young boy of twelve years, and quietly asked the manager if he knew what band sang Here Comes Your Man. He immediately smiled and strolled away, returning with what would be the first of three copies of this album I would own in my lifetime. With that, two months of saving my allowance was gone; with that came the most amazing album I've ever heard.
I spent that night listening to Here Comes Your Man over and over again. It was probably the one song that showed me how much power and majesty a single song could have; this is what Ritchie Valens might have sounded like in the late 1960s or maybe Buddy Holly if their music would have had a chance to grow. It's got that almost doo-wopish feel of those early pop/rock legends, but with a streak of something undefinable running through it. The lyrics are about opening the door and seeing all of the beauty and pain that the world at large has to offer; it's a song I can still sing along to to this day.
It didn't take long for me to start exploring the rest of the album, and the rest of it is perhaps just as good as Here Comes Your Man. It opens with Debaser (2:53), which is a song I would immediately point to if anyone even attempted to claim that Nirvana started the grunge-punk movement in music. One listen to this makes you realize that, yes, Smells Like Teen Spirit really is just a Pixies rip-off. It's got that angry detached sound with that twinge of pop mentality, a tortured sounding vocalist bemoaning a deep dissatisfaction with popular culture and the world in general.
Tame (1:55) sounds even more like Smells Like Teen Spirit than the opener, using the alternation between soft acoustics and angry, shouted vocals over an electric guitar. The screamed vocals about a girl pretending to be something she's not just click together.
The next track, Wave of Mutilation (2:42), winds up sounding more like a straight-up pleasant guitar rocker if it weren't for the unnerving lyrics. This complacent sound with distraught lyrics works very well here, a change of pace from the monstrous sound of the first two tracks.
I Bleed (2:34), when I listen to it now, sounds so familiar; I guess it's because the idea of using mixed lyrical styles (and the idea of a high pitched vocal leading the way) has been used so often since then. In terms of more current musicians, this song actually calls to mind Weezer, giving some idea of the groundbreaking diversity being played here.
Here Comes Your Man (3:21) really was the one track that showed me music didn't have to follow all of the "rules." It mixed Buddy Holly with a punk feel; it meshed Ritchie Valens with a heavy electric sound. It was something new and fresh to me; it opened my ears and heart to music in ways that I didn't know I had before that cold night when this song first arrived at my ears across the airwaves. Thank you, Pixies.
The sixth track, Dead (2:21), sounds as though it may have inspired Tool, especially in terms of the guitarwork; it's a bit more melodic, but the analogy still fits. It drives along steadily like a guitar-led audio freight train, with Frank Black's angry vocals along for the ride.
Monkey Gone To Heaven (2:56) is what one might call the title track; the album cover has a monkey sketch on it. It is a deeply haunting environmental song, especially with the repeated chant-like lines of "this monkey's gone to heaven" that carry the chorus.
The eighth track, Mr. Grieves (2:52), is very unusual even on this eclectic album, almost calling to mind the Mothers of Invention, at least to my ears. The lyrics are odd and meandering, much like the music; the two fit each other quite well as the song wanders from style to style.
Crackity Jones (1:24) almost sounds like a rock-heavy extension of Mr. Grieves. Frank Black's vocals are very odd here, almost as if he's trying to make up voices as he goes along. This song is short, but it rocks very hard.
La La Love You (2:43) is probably as close as The Pixies get to a "typical" love song. The whistling effects almost make this seem like a grunge parody of some of the sillier love songs of the 1960s and 1970s. It's quite a bit mellower than the previous track, again alternating tempos.
The eleventh track, No. 13 Baby (3:51), is a very good straightforward rock song about a girl that brings bad luck. This is probably the most straightforward rock song on the album along with Wave of Mutilation, but the chorus is quite catchy and memorable.
There Goes My Gun (1:49) is strongly driven by the drumwork; it's an interestingly done short little driven rock track. It's almost reminiscent of The Beatles' Happiness Is A Warm Gun in idea and execution; a little off kilter song about a gun.
Track number thirteen starts the home stretch. Hey (3:31) is perhaps the most subdued track on the whole disc, a sort of jazzy/bluesy number (in places almost summoning the figurative ghost of James Brown) with only a bit of electric guitar work really breaking out. The feature here is the vocal meandering, which is somehow fitting for a song about complete sexual confusion.
Silver (2:25) uses harmonicas, a very twangy guitar, and unusual vocal harmonization to create another new and distinctive sound. It's a song about ending things and leaving things behind and would have probably made a great album closer.
But the actual closer is Gouge Away (2:46), a heavy tempo-alternating rocker that closes out the album very well. This song, much like the opener, really makes clear how much of Nirvana's catalogue, especially the Nevermind stuff, was inspired by The Pixies and perhaps this album in specific.
This is a great album, and I highly recommend their other albums if you like this one, especially Bossanova and Surfer Rosa. The Pixies were groundbreakers, but more importantly, they were excellent musicians; this is just a great album that tries a lot of different things and succeeds at most of them.
I listened to this album the night after I found out I could afford to go to college. I listened to this album the night after I lost my virginity. I listened to this album the night after my hometown was destroyed by Mississippi River flooding in 1993. And I listen to this album now, and even with all of the memories and hopes and dreams and thoughts that I have emotionally tied into this album, the music itself still absolutely amazes me every time I hear it.