The Pixies - Come On Pilgrim
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
While Come On Pilgrim has often been heralded as a blistering warning shot of future greatest, one suspects that this is the sort of narrative that is tagged onto a band’s discography in retrospect. It blisters, to be certain. But the mature, fully formed sound and insularity to the point of paranoia sound made here seems more the marks of a band in its final death rattles than those of the iconic uncrafted, invigorating debut.
Where one might expect a band’s influences to be most obvious early in their career, before they had “transcended them”, it is not the case here. It is only on their later full length efforts, where other producers would clear up the noise and accentuate their melodic aspects, that the extent of their rock and roll student-hood would be fully apparent. Here, they leap fully formed from their father’s brains, perhaps unprepared for what they would encounter.
Lyrically, Come On Pilgrim yields a coherency that the Pixies would never even attempt to repeat. The EP opens and closes with dire yearning from Black Francis to abandon his human form: in “Caribou”, to become the title animal instead, and in “Levitate Me” to transcend into heaven. These tracks are connected further not only by structure but by a religious urgency, the former’s forcefully demonic “Repent!” and the latter’s equally, but more subtly demonic “Come on pilgrim / You know he loves you”. They’re also the album’s only ballads.
And in between? Nothing but incest.
From “Vamos” (translated): “I was thinking of living / With my sister in New Jersey / She told me it’s a good life there / Very good / Very Nice / Here I go / Jerk off”.
From “Isla de Encanta”: “Little sister come with me”.
From “Holiday Song”: “He took his sister from his head / And impregnated her on the sheets”.
From “Nimrod’s Son”, explicitly: “You are the son of an incestuous union”.
There are exactly two characters in the album not within the narrator’s family: Ed, who is, of course, dead, and the love interest in “I’ve Been Tired”. The latter is a last ditch effort to escape from the insular world created, which ends in failure, sexual frustration, and regression, as Francis chants “T-I-R-E-D spells it”, sounding both childish and silly.
And the album is a bit silly. Not many bands could get away with a repeated chorus of “Ed is dead! / Ed is dead!” But it’s silly in a terrifying way: not so much a fat man on a tiny bicycle as a fat man wielding a tiny axe and heading towards your skull.
Come On Pilgrim is occasionally left off lists of essential Pixies purchases, which is criminal. It’s not an ideal introduction, but it’s more vital than Bossanova, at least. While the sound here isn’t perfect, and they would soon be both leaner and catchier, there’s scarcely been a debut outside of Velvet Underground and Nico and My Aim is True as powerful and fully formed as this, possibly the most important released in its year.
By: Ryan Hamilton
Published on: 2003-09-01