On paper the second pixies album “Doolittle” shouldn’t work. Off kilter art rock made by social outcasts about surrealism and religious violence shouldn’t be good and really shouldn’t get into the top 100 in the USA and number 8 in the UK. An album this abrasive and jagged shouldn’t carry this much melody. Doolittle however really does work and if you let it, it will stick to your brain like a limpet and never ever leave.
I discovered the band fairly late on. I had heard that they were a big influence on Nirvana and for years I got by on one of their compilation albums. I really love the quirky and downright strange nature of their music. However when you hear those songs in the context of an album they really do soar.
Doolittle kicks off with one of the best opening trios recorded. “Debaser”, “tame” and “wave of mutilation” are a three handed slap in the face that demands your attention. “Tame” also gets bonus points for being in my opinion one of the sleeziest rock songs going powered by Black Francis’s deranged roar.
If you want to get a true idea of the pixies you need to listen to the track “here comes your man”. On the surface with the first listen it is a bright Beatles like pop song. Then play it again and you start to notice a little shadowing. Several listens in and it becomes and really creepy piece of music.
The true magic of pixies music is the vocal contrast between Francis and Kim Deal the bassist. Their voices are at once eerily similar and complete polar opposite of each other. Neither of them have particularly strong voices but they convey so much of themselves emotionally that it’s impossible not to be swept up in them.
It’s also really hard to pin down what “Doolittle” actually is. It wilfully leaps from genre to genre never staying long enough in one place to get comfortable. Art rock, punk, grunge, country,folk etc are all picked up for a few minutes then discarded and in a way that’s kind of what “Doolittle” and the band as a whole are about. These are not your traditional rock stars making safe music to sell. This is obtuse, challenging music made by a band who were outcasts. You can see why these guys and the bands in Seattle were starting to get traction on the world stage because they were showing that basically you didn’t have to look or sound the part to make great music. You could just be yourself and play what you wanted to play. In many ways the lasting legacy of “Doolittle” is introducing a large punk rock attitude and a heavy dose of weirdness into the mainstream. Ultimately this is a great album and really set the tone for the way rock music would sound in the nineties