Part 32 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays
My very 1st “alternative” record (briefly alluded to in my review of Live’s debut album Mental Jewelry).In the somewhat fundamental Christian environment that I grew up in, outright parties were frowned upon (though people who were “living on the edge” had them). Instead, what we had what were called “gatherings”. Want to get a group of folks together to celebrate a graduation? See you at the gathering, friend. Want to get a group together to celebrate an anniversary? See you at the gathering, friend (I think you get the point). It could be somewhat maddening, but it was at one of these “gatherings” (OK – it was a party) that I was introduced to the album that changed my perspective on the world of music.
At the time I was barely a teenager hanging out with a slightly older crowd. My musical choices consisted of mainstream hip hop (which I still enjoy) and heavy metal (which I also still enjoy). I hadn’t yet started exploring anything outside of those genres really. A friend of a friend was hanging out with my group of friends and asked me if I’d heard of the Pixies. Of course I replied “nope…never heard of them”. A giddy smile came across his face and he popped the cassette into the tape deck of the car we were in. As the surf sounds of opener “Cecilia Ann” came over the speakers, I could feel something awaken inside of me – this music really spoke to me. This internal hum became stronger as the album played, and I instantly made it a mission to find as many records by the Pixies as I could find, and discover as many other like-minded bands as I could. My path towards punk, alternative, post-punk, indie, etc…can all be traced back to the day I heard this album by the Pixies. Although most critics praise other albums more highly, this is my favorite album by the Pixies.
My heart was feeling free (album analysis)
Cecilia Ann – a cover of the 60’s instrumental surf classic by The Surftones. The Pixies respect the original while adding in a heavier vibe. Ominous yet playful, it sets the tone for the record.
Rock Music – a noisy assault with Black Francis screaming his way through the entire track. White noise guitar, with slight breakdowns at the bridge. Lyrics are tough to make out unless you really focus on the screaming. Not really anything else in the band’s discography that sounds like this, unless you count the chorus of their version of “In Heaven”. This is a good approximation of every lyric of the song “Your Mouth’s A Mile Away [repeat about 8 times] / AHHHHHHH / I’m already gone… / Hey you know me”
Velouria – The very different opening tracks (surfing & screaming) suddenly make sense as this track has surf guitar undertones with an aggressive edge. Black Francis has a sweetness in his voice that stands in stark contrast with his performance in “Rock Music”. The track breaks down into a mantra like section with Francis repeating “we will wade in the shine of the ever” Kim Deal’s backing vocals and work on bass guitar are a highlight. Key lyrics:
i know she’s here
i can see the tears
my velouria, my velouria
even i’ll adore your
Allison – Up tempo introduction / repeated for two verses before a guitar solo comes into the mix – sounding like something off of Sun Records. It then shifts into a surf interlude / sing-a-long chorus. Not bad for a track that comes in at 1:17. “and when the planet hit the sun / i saw the face of allison”
Is She Weird – Whispered vox, bass high up in the mix, and intricate guitar playing by Joey Santiago. An ominous vibe permeates throughout the song. The chorus is extremely catchy, and you’ll find yourself chanting alongside Mr. Francis though you may not understand what exactly you are singing.
is she weird
is she over me
like the stars and the sun
like the stars and the sun
is she weird
is she weird, is she white
is she promised to the night
and her head has no room!
Ana – Sun Records (Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison) influence combined with a more prominent 60’s surf guitar vibe. The soundtrack to a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway on the California coast. Whispered, atmospheric vocals. Perfection.
she’s my fave
undressing in the sun
return to sea – bye
ride a wave
All Over the World – More of a straightforward rock song (at least for the Pixies). Uses a template that Nirvana would sell to the masses just a few years later – verse / chorus / verse. Don’t let any of that deter you, this is a great track. Scorching guitar solo, and a sweetness in the vocals that provides an interesting contrast. The song takes an unexpected turn with just 2 minutes left, entering into a coda of melodic guitar noise and Black Francis chanting “all my thoughts / all i am are my thoughts / all my thoughts / i am all what i’m taught”
Dig for Fire – A track that seems to be inspired by the Talking Heads. Black Francis does his best David Byrne impression – call and response vocals, melodic guitar. The song was released as a single and reached #11 on the Modern Rock charts. The chorus is insanely catchy and I can see why the band thought they might have a huge hit on their hands.
Down to the Well – Ominous vibes return with this track – guitar tones sounding like “The Man Who Sold The World” by David Bowie carrying the song before the band joins in on the noisy assault. The music builds towards a screamed chorus before the focus shifts back to the incessant Bowie-ish guitar refrain. Key lyrics:
been thinking to myself
and if a life’s not long
what matter does it make
if there’ll be favorite songs playing in my head
when we go down to the well
The Happening – my favorite Pixies song, bar none. This was the start of Black Francis / Frank Black’s obsession with aliens. B-movie vibe, eerie sound f/x and bass before it leads up to one of the most stunning choruses I’ve ever heard. I wish Black Francis had used this falsetto more, it sends shivers up my spine. It shifts back into the eerie intro with spoken / sung vocals that sometimes are shouted. The last part of the song leads up to the encounter and it is sweetly spoken / sung as melodic surf guitar carries the song into perfection. That part of the song haunts me (in a good way) and is repeated here:
i was driving doing nothing on the shores of Great Salt Lake
when they put it on the air i put it in the hammer lane
i soon forgot myself and i forgot about the brake
i forgot all laws and i forgot about the rain
they were talking on the 9 and all across the AM band
across the road they were turning around and headed south with me
it got so crowded on the road i started driving in the sand
my head was feeling scared but my heart was feeling free
the desert turned to mud it seems that everybody heard
everybody was remembering to forget they had the chills
then i heard the voices on a broadcast from up on the bird
they were getting interviewed by some Goodman whose name was Bill
i’m almost there to Vegas where they’re puttin’ on a show
they’ve come so far i’ve lived this long at least i must just go and say
Blown Away – After the emotional journey of the previous track, you would almost expect the Pixies to take it easy – they don’t. This is another devastating track, melodic and eerie, with that surf sound again dominating the track. “my lips are moving / if you touch my face / did you hear my scream?”
Hang Wire – The track that features the verse that inspired the name of the album. Almost sounds like two different male vocalists, but of course it is all Black Francis. Shouty, emotive verses before a stunning screamed chorus. Again feels like a Talking Heads inspired track (at least during the verses). “every morning and every day / i’ll bossanova with ya”
Stormy Weather – a noisy, less melodic track featuring the lyric “It is time / for stormy weather” repeated throughout as the music mellows / becomes aggressive and repeats itself
Havalina – a very mellow closing track, sounding like a Roy Orbison or Chris Isaak track (yes, I am dead serious. This is a good thing). Features Kim Deal’s voice in tandem with Black Francis (not used on this record like it was on their earlier records). A perfect concluding track.
Walking in the breeze
On the plains of old Sedona
Among the trees
If you haven’t heard anything by the Pixies, this is a great starting point. For me, it represents the start of a musical path that absolutely changed my life. There isn’t much weakness to be found in the band’s discography though, so you’ll want to pick up all of their albums after listening to this one. Time has done nothing to diminish my love of this record. Join me next week as I discuss 2112 by Rush.