Monday, October 22, 2007

[045] Doolittle

Album: Doolittle
Artist: Pixies
Release Date: April 1989
Label: 4AD/Elektra
Producer: Gil Norton

"We're apin', rapin', tapin' catharsis..."
- from "Dead"

I hope this will be interesting - I like to share my thought process every once in a while so you guys know where I'm coming from, and reassure myself that I'm not out of my mind for dropping a classic like this so low on the list. It's weird - I'm here and I'm supposed to be praising these epochal pieces of art, and yet sometimes my first instinct is to point out the negatives to justify the placement I've chosen. Ah, the drama of a listmaker. The Pixies' Doolittle is surely one of the most important albums in the paths traveled by Alternative Rock, and American Rock & Roll in general, and on the original incarnation of this list, it was placed in the top 15. But after doing research on the band and listening to the album, my opinion of Doolittle dipped a bit. There was one thing that cut right to the heart of everything: Rob Sheffield, who used to write for Spin but is now over at Rolling Stone, did the write up for the Pixies entry in the Rolling Stone Album Guide, and pointed out that the first half of Doolittle is so monumental that the second half suffers from disappointment and letdown. It's exactly what I recently said about U2's Joshua Tree; Doolittle is frontloaded for sure, just not quite as wide a division. I don't like to let the opinions of outside sources guide where I'm going with my writing, but fuck if he didn't beat me to my own point. And here's a little bonus kicker - if you go back to Sheffield's old haunt, in the 1994 Spin Alternative Record Guide, Rob's colleague Eric Weisbard called the album's pacing "muddled", and suggested programming your CD to play the songs in the order implied by the lyrics in the booklet. I read that passage for the first time more than a decade ago, before I had even heard the Pixies, and it resurfaced in my brain today like I had just read it this morning... I don't know; what am I saying? I guess even the most essential albums have their flaws. I'd say that it's like an ancient King's jewel-encrusted crown in a museum case, and it has some scratches on it, from years of just existing, like oh no, it's only worth $70 million now instead of $80 million, but still it means more to history.

I can see Black Francis wearing the crown, the reigning King of Indie Rock, with Kim Deal as the Queen beside him, Sir Joey Santiago and Sir David Lovering as their brave knights, leading the charge to the strains of "Gouge Aweay"; one of the things I really enjoy about Doolittle is there is ths air of triumph that floats through its best songs, "Debaser" especially. It's just a little song with Frank telling you to check out this surrealist film from the 1920's, and yet when you're inside its two minutes and fifty-two seconds, it sounds like the greatest Rock song of all time. You know it's not really true but you want it to be. The guitars announce his majesty, King Frank I of the Black Country, the rotund fellow with the greatest bleat in Indie Rock history, accompanied by his cooing Queen and her rising bassline. Equally majestic, "Wave Of Mutilation" may be a suicide note, but it sounds upbeat and huge; it's no accident that Dave Grohl chose Doolittle producer Gil Norton to beef up the Foo Fighters' sound on The Colour & The Shape. "I Bleed" and "Dead" sound like the castle dungeon, all whips cracking and pained wails, the drums rolling to the cranking of the torture devices; as Santiago's bluesy leads squeal in unison, you can hear newborn Alt-Rock bands being named in his honor. Peasants work the fields, whispering of the legend of the mysterious "Mr. Grieves" and warning of the murderous "Crackity Jones".

Maybe Black Francis and the band sequenced the album the way they did because they had the presence of mind that this was going to be their big break or something, so they wanted to put their best foot forward. It kind of falls in line with the fact that Doolittle predicted so much of the next 18 years of Avant-Rock, like the Pixies worked so well together because they were four Rock psychics. For each song on the album you could name a band that based its entire sound off that one song. Even the early environmental anthem "Monkey Gone To Heaven" could be Al Gore's theme music now. Despite their legendary inter-band drama starting to creep in during recording, the Pixies sound like they had fun branching out their sound; "Here Comes Your Man" and "La La Love You" want to worship AM Gold, while in "Tame", Frank just wants to scream his head off, shredding his vocal chords in your face. It's not like this album was a instant cornerstone or a massive hit; I mean, it had a couple radio singles, and it was bigger than, say, The Velvet Underground & Nico was in its time, so it's not quite a best kept secret or an "everyone who bought it formed a band" situation. But it still took six years to go Gold in the US, and it's probably just now finally ready to pop Platinum status. As the Pixies pointed towards the future, they also summed up the recent past, combining both the craziest and the most melodic moments of 80's Punk and College Rock - the howls from Talking Heads to Meat Puppets to Bad Brains; the squall of X, of Hüsker Dü, or Sonic Youth - into a singular Pixies sound; much like The Cure, when you hear the Pixies, you know it's the Pixies. Whether the second side is really inferior to the first side doesn't really matter, because the Pixies definitely put their own stamp on Rock & Roll, and it sounded like they were having fun throughout; Black Francis said, "the point [of the album] is to experience it, to enjoy it, to be entertained by it", and like the song says, "hope that everything's alright."

01. "Debaser"
02. "Tame"
03. "Wave Of Mutilation"
04. "I Bleed"
05. "Here Comes Your Man"
06. "Dead"
07. "Monkey Gone To Heaven"
08. "Mr. Grieves"
09. "Crackity Jones"
10. "La La Love You"
11. "No. 13 Baby"
12. "There Goes My Gun"
13. "Hey"
14. "Silver"
15. "Gouge Away"

"Debaser" [video]

"Here Comes Your Man" [video]

"Monkey Gone To Heaven/Tame" [live on Night Music, 1989]
Their first US TV performance

"Gouge Away" [live in London, 06.91]

- BONUS: "Debaser" [live in Boston, 2004]
- BONUS: "Wave Of Mutilation" [live & acoustic, 2004]
- BONUS: "I Bleed" [live on Snub TV, 1989]
- BONUS: "Dead" [live on Snub TV, 1989]
- BONUS: "Monkey Gone To Heaven" [live on Letterman, 12.04]
- BONUS: "Mr. Grieves" [live in France, 2004]
- BONUS: "No. 13 Baby" [live in Greece, 1989]
- BONUS: The infamous "Hey" clip [audio/fan video]
An early YouTube staple, almost 17 million served, even Silent Bob.

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