Playing God
Pixies: Doolittle

i never really got on board with the line of thinking that Doolitte was the best Pixies album. In fact, when I go for a Pixies album to listen to, it’s probably the one I go to last—it’s not as rocking as Surfer Rosa, as atmospheric or conceptual as Bossanova or as ridiculously enjoyable as Trompe Le Monde. It’s still a great album—some of the catchiest, most important indie rock of the last 20 years—but it’s not even close to perfect.

The main reason for this is that The Pixies couldn’t structure their albums for shit. What Doolittle is is essentially two separate mini-albums on one CD. The first is like The Best Pixies Album in the World…Ever!—you know, the hits, the concert favorites, the ones that always end up on their compilations—“Debaser,” “Tame,” “Wave of Mutilation,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” one after the other. And the second is more like The Pixies’ Odds-and-Ends—b-side sounding songs like the “Here Comes Your Man” near-reprise “There Goes My Gun,” the bizarre David Lovering-crooned “La La Love You” and the spaghetti western ballad “Silver”. It’s not exactly a smooth ride, and then when it ends with a great big “huh?”—non-closer “Gouge Away,” which is the only song in the second half that could’ve easily fit on the first side—it’s truly perplexing.

So what I’ve done is I’ve smoothed it out, mixing in the singles with the b-sides and making for one properly proportioned listen. In doing so, I got rid of some of the lesser album tracks—“Monkey Gone to Heaven” repeat “No. 13 Baby”, boring punker “Crackity Jones”, the directionless “Dead” and the grating “Mr. Grieves”, and I’ve added some superior b-sides. Let’s see how it turned out.

1. “Debaser”
Yeah, so they got one thing right when structuring this album. Kim Deal’s opening bass-line to “Debaser” is as instantly recognizable an album kick-off as Keith Richards’ “Brown Sugar” riff or Robert Plant’s “Black Dog” wails, and it’d be damn near heretic to change that. I’m not as wild about Frank Black’s Un Chien Andalou shrieks, but it’s still a classic Pixies number.

2. “Into the White” (“Here Comes Your Man” b-side)
I firmly believe that The Pixies would’ve been at least twice as good if Frank let Kim sing as often as he did. The cool sexiness of her hushed drawl makes for such a fantastic contrast to his maniacal yawps. She had proven before with “Gigantic” that she could write and sing her own Pixies classics, and here she proves that even with Frank’s words she could still outclass the shit out of him. It’s probably The Pixies’ finest non-album moment.

3. “Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)” (“Here Comes Your Man” b-side)
This often fan-preferred version of “Wave of Mutilation”—also a live favorite—does a nice job of slowing things down for a minute and allowing listeners to catch their breath, something the first side of the original Doolittle didn’t bother to do but the second side did too often. I don’t know if it’s superior to the original, but with its gorgeous, echoed production and leisurely pace, it’s near-Jesus and Mary Chain in its hypnotic powers.

4. “Here Comes Your Man”
I almost left this off the album just to be antagonistic, since I can’t for the life of me understand why this is the only Pixies song my alternative radio station will play, but it is still a fine song, with its catchy surf riff and throwaway lyrics, if not their finest.

5. “Tame”
Possibly my favorite song off the original Doolittle, this masterpiece of tension is a perfect example of why The Pixies were given credit for inventing the template of quiet-verse / loud-chorus that would act as the blueprint for an entire generation of alternative rockers. And the Frank and Kim “uh-huh” duet in the bridge might be the finest Pixies moment on record.

6. “La La Love You”
This is possibly the silliest Pixies song there ever was. Complete with catcalls, sarcastically sincere (or sincerely sarcastic) “I Love You” assertions from each band-member, and drummer David Lovering’s best Elvis croon of “Alllll I’m sayyyyyin’…..prrrretty baaaaaaaby….., this is also one of The Pixies’ quirkiest, most enjoyable numbers.

7. “Gouge Away”
Rescued from the weight of following up both “Hey!” and “Silver”—both of which would’ve made fine closers—“Gouge Away” is free to reveal itself to be one of The Pixies’ finer pop moments. And its title was violent enough to inspire a Papa Roach cover, even!

8. “Silver”
Kim Deal’s sole writing contribution to Doolittle, “Silver” is one of The Pixies’ most heavily maligned songs. I think it’s a fine number, though, certainly one of the stranger Pixies songs but also another nice taste of something different. A break from all the catchiness.

9. “I Bleed”
And out from the drama of “Silver” creeps the infectious bass line to “I Bleed” I always thought that while Surfer Rosa was a key influence for bands like Nirvana, Doolittle was more important to bands like Weezer (cf. the bassline from “Only in Dreams”). This song is also notable for being possibly the only Pixies song to consist entirely of a Kim/Frank duet, also demonstrating more explicitly my earlier point about their contrasting singing styles. Thanks, Pixies.

10. “Manta Ray” (“Here Comes Your Man” b-side)
More bass-heavy catchiness. One of their best b-sides. Next.

11. “Hey!”
The opening to “Hey!” is pure brilliance—the way it makes you wonder if the titular shout is just an afterthought from the previous song, before roping you in with the bass line and tying it together with the “been trying / to meet you” line. The song doesn’t really take off too much from that point, but it’s still deservedly a fan favorite, one of their finest near-love songs.

12. “There Goes My Gun”
In itself, not much of a song—though like much of Doolittle’s second side, still a fun one—but I like how it sort of works as a “Here Comes Your Man” encore. Adding more cohesion to the album. Actually, I take it back, this is probably the silliest Pixies song.

13. “Monkey Gone to Heaven”
This song always sounded out of place in the middle of Doolittle with its genuine seriousness—I thought it belonged towards the end. It’s not the definitive Pixies number as some think—nothing on Doolittle is, really—but yeah, another great one. “Rock me, Joe!”

14. “Wave of Mutilation”
But I still wanted to end the album on an upbeat note, so I got “Wave of Mutilation” to act as another second-side encore to close the album. It’s got a nice note of finality to it, I think, and it’s a fantastic song.

By: Andrew Unterberger
Published on: 2004-09-14
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