It’s the 25th anniversary of the album Doolittle, and the Pixies are clearly proud of this work. In it’s honour they’ve released a 50 track version which combines the full original album, plus all of the B-sides, Peel sessions, and demos for the entire album. If nothing else, be impressed with my reviewer’s ear stamina. Turns out though that Pixies have pulled off the ‘anniversary’ album quite well, and if you’re a Pixies fan then you should definitely pick this up.
I only discovered Pixies relatively recently, as around three years ago EP1 popped up somewhere and I went for it because of the creepy black lined sketch artwork. I’m a big sucker for album artwork, and this was in fact how I used to decide what to purchase on iTunes or in a shop, without even listening to the music (if you can believe it). Clearly, I had a lot of faith in that method, and it served me well this time, as Andro Queen is one of the most atmospheric tracks, possibly ever. And the whole of the discography art is just great. There’s a dramatic dog, a creepy doll, and loads of weird eye balls (Yeah Yeah Yeahs were clearly influenced). Making an exception for the hairy back on their first release, Come On Pilgrim, the dark and eclectic feel that the artwork sets carries over to their music, and Doolittle is no exception. And come on, a monkey with a halo. Genius.
The first CD, which is the original 1989 release, blends all the signature Pixies styles - there’s the thrumming bass lines which open almost every track (Kim Deal is my goddess), the male-female harmonies, and the surf rock feel that they somehow make deliciously dark (see Here Comes Your Man). The song which I assume gives rise to the beloved album cover, Monkey Gone To Heaven, is just plain weird, and kind of sounds like listening to someone lose their mind. In fact, quite a few of the tracks are not dissimilar, but while the lyrics may be impenetrable, it cannot be denied that this band know how to create a mood, and they effectively sustain it throughout (something which cannot be said for many albums of this length). I do prefer the opening half of the album, with Debaser setting the perfect scene, yet I can’t help but think that they make the gradual downwards spiral into slight madness deliberate. The album is excellent, and so getting to listen to another 35 tracks of demos for it seemed pretty great at this point.
CD 2, which compiles Peel sessions and B-sides, kicks off with a session of Dead which kindled my love for the jangly, jagged guitar riffs that Joey Santiago does so well. There’s also an unreleased Tame session, but for some reason I just don’t appreciate having “You got hips like Cinderella” whispered in my ear, swiftly followed by blood curdling screams. Not my favourite. I do love Into The White, as Kim Deal’s muttering lyrics melt into the thrumming backing to create a really enjoyable track (and a bit of a break from Black Francis’ wailing). The guitar riff chimes through really beautifully on the relaxed session of Wave Of Mutilation, and the UK Surf version just cranks up the reverb until it sounds like you’re listening in a huge underground cave, which is seriously cool. To finish off this CD, Pixies have kindly provided us with Bailey’s Walk, just in case you wanted to burst your eardrums before pressing on to the next 22 tracks. Don’t ask.
Finally we come to the third disc, which has the entire album in Demo form, as well as some bonus tracks. If you’ve made it this far with me, well done. It’s clear that this disc is purely for the true Pixies fans, as demos are really fascinating if you can see the progression, but not so much if you’ve no idea what the final track sounds like. Luckily for us, we’ve just listened to them all, so a lot of this is stripped down familiarity. Sadly, they hadn’t yet turned up the bass or the reverb, so these are slightly less appealing to me, but to be honest, are pretty good for demos (or maybe that’s just because the Pixies have a demo-esque sound in general). The interchanging harmony on I Bleed is lovely, and the more surf rock tracks have a nice improv sound on this disc, which is pleasing. The very first demo of Hey is really great too, and like a lot of the tracks here they’ve kept in the talking at the start, with one of them joking that “This’ll be the keeper” and Kim laughing in the background - I love it when you get an actual feel of a band in the room recording, as it involves the listener in a refreshing way.
Doolittle 25 has only solidified my love for Pixies, and who wouldn’t want to love a band who picked their name randomly out of a dictionary and kind of look like they’re made up of a group of wannabe cool dads. So, if you like the idea of a slow jangly wailing grungy vibe, or if you just like that one track off of Fight Club and want to hear more, then congratulations. I’m sure you and the halo monkey will be very happy together. I’ll be off listening to Wave Of Mutilation on repeat (is my favouritism obvious yet?).