Dusting 'Em Off
Revisiting an album, a film, or an event on its anniversary

Dusting ‘Em Off: Pixies – Doolittle

on January 30, 2010, 8:00am

With every listen, the Pixies’ 1989 sophomore record Doolittle just gets better and better. Truly, there’s no mistaking the pure genius behind this album, released just over two decades ago. And within that time, Doolittle has rightfully earned its place (for many) as one of the most influential albums of all time. Embracing its own unique and eclectic sound, Doolittle shifts from fast-paced aggression to melodic temperament with the quiet, graceful ease of a ballerina performing a pirouette, refusing to halt for even a moment’s breath. From beginning to end, Doolittle takes you on a wild adventure through the dusty and murky trails that its metallic guitars and pulsing bass lines leave behind, giving you no choice but to get sucked into their intoxicating stench.

Laced with off-beat and morbid subject matter, portrayed mystically through up-lifting rock melodies, Doolittle features Pixies branching into new dimensions, including the incorporation of new instruments alongside their trademark loud-quiet dynamic and simplistic chord progressions. Originally entitled Whore, the album eventually saw its way through various up and downs: Lead singer Black Francis and producer Gil Norton were at each others’ throats on a constant basis, while some unnecessary tension arose between labels in regards to ownership and distribution rights. With Francis already on edge while Norton slowly attempted to make his music more commercial, further tensions arose between Francis and bassist Kim Deal, delaying the album’s progression significantly. And it was these very matters that ultimately led to the band’s termination in late 1992.

As the album reached its final stages, Francis altered the title to Doolittle, which he snagged from the “Mr. Grieves” lyric, “Pray for a man in the middle, one that talks like Doolittle,” following the album-naming trend for past Pixies records. When it was finally released, several critics issued mixed feelings towards it, with some unable to digest the album’s density or its morbid ties to surrealism, Biblical violence, torture and death. However, in recent years, Doolittle has been met with overwhelming praise and is considered (by many) to be Pixies’ greatest achievement.

Surprisingly, the much loved album only had two singles. The first of these was the slow and sexy, bass-driven “Monkey Gone to Heaven” which once spun on college radio stations shot up the charts with the wild and ferocious energy of a forest fire. Speaking of forest fires, the song itself is tied to man’s place in nature and is riddled with Biblical references, with Francis referring to the Devil as “six” and God being “seven” while also focusing on man’s difficult relationship with the divine and one’s individual place in the universe. However, when it’s not analyzed up and down, “Monkey Gone to Heaven” pleases the ears with its grungy, dirt-ridden guitar melodies, seductive vocals and it’s subtle, but much needed cello accompaniment. Doolittle’s second single, “Here Comes Your Man”, brings smiles with its surf-rock guitar riffs and simplistic 2/4 percussion, as it carries you along a free-flowing wave of joyous delight.

The album’s opening track “Debaser” was also released as a single in promotion of the Death to the Pixies compilation released in ‘97. “Debaser” kicks like a ram, with fast-paced aggression and relentless chord progression. Referencing surrealism, a theme present throughout the entire album, “Debaser” is more or less based on the short film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, and incorporates the films views on debased morality and art standards, while also including a slight variation of its title in the lyric “un chien andalousia.”

Doolittle, in all its glory, has also been overwhelmingly influential to both alternative rock and grunge musicians (including Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins). With much of the album dedicated to densely rich material, including references to heroin addiction (“Gouge Away”), the Biblical story of David and Bathsheba (“Dead”), death and destruction (“Wave of Mutilation”) and man’s relationships with women and prostitutes (“Tame”/“Hey”), it’s really hard to pin-point any major flaws with this record. Personally, however, the strange, Western-esque “Silver”, for me, is the album’s weakest point with its uncomfortably eerie, echoing vocals and mild guitar shredding, as it trots slowly through a futuristic, desert landscape. However, Doolittle even with “Silver” is beyond reproach. From the guttural shouts of the temperamental “Crackity Jones”, to the echoing guitars featured in “There Goes My Gun”, to the experimental and emotional roller coaster of “No. 13 Baby”, Doolittle leaves little room for mistake and begs the question: Does it ever get better than this?

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