Album: Surfer Rosa
Buy: Why not!
On the record label 4AD's website, the profile of the seminal alt-rock band Pixies is compared to another equally prominent band – the Velvet Underground. The comparison is certainly apt, as neither of the bands has experienced much commercial success, but their works were hugely influential and esteemed. The Pixies have garnered respect and admiration from a number of artists – from U2, Blur, and Nirvana to David Bowie, Radiohead, and PJ Harvey. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was such a big fan of the band's unique sound that he even admitted that “Smells like teen spirit”, which was one of Nirvana's biggest hits, is an unabashed imitation of the Pixies' musical style. In Cobain's own words, he was “trying to write the ultimate pop song... basically trying to rip off the Pixies”.
Surfer Rosa, the Pixies' first full-length album, which was released in 1988, is arguably among the best albums in the alternative/independent rock genre. Striking that delicate, volatile balance between accessible pop and raw, visceral noise, Surfer Rosa is nothing short of stellar.
In spite of being only about 33 minutes long, the thirteen-song-album is quite a powerhouse, tingling with the quirky energy that is characteristic of the Pixies.
While most of the songs in the album are barely three minutes long, each one is taut and compact. Cutesy ditties are juxtaposed with weirder, edgier material – the sunny, cheerful Where Is My Mind?. which lead singer Frank Black said he wrote about a little fish that kept following him around while he was scuba diving in the Caribbean. It is followed by the considerably strange Cactus, in which a convict makes a number of requests to his absent girlfriend, including to “Bloody your hands on a cactus tree/ wipe it on your dress and send it to me”.
The lyrics, almost all of which were written by Frank Black, deal with various themes such as violence and voyeurism, and bear his trademark stamp of dark humour. Adding to the album's eccentricity are random snippets of conversation between the band members that appear in between some of the songs.
If you're looking for music that lurks in the elusive no-man's-land between mainstream and indie music, and swings unexpectedly between the two, Surfer Rosa is an album that you can't afford to miss. With their kooky, abstruse lyrics, and hummable melodies interspersed with sudden bursts of noise (or vice versa!), the Pixies provide a listening experience that is both enjoyable and stimulating. Needless to say, the album is essential listening for any fan of 90s, indie, or alternative rock. And even if you're not a fan of those genres, it may be worth picking up the album anyway — who knows, you might just find yourself hooked.
Miriam Kumaradoss, I Year, M.A (English), EFLU, Hyderabad.