Pixies - Doolittle
Jun 28, 2020 (updated Jun 28, 2020)
CFCE 87.8 FM Weekly Genre : Indie Rock

We have all known or heard endless debates on the classification of musical genres and sub-styles. Can we study the relevance or not of a term invented by a journalist who has become a trend, or a term self-proclaimed by the artist himself? I think it's relative and different for each individual. However, these musical genres/styles are quite practical and rather well done when you think about it. Whether you accept it or not, they are now indirectly a basis on which to build. For example, we all have in mind what the colour "red" looks like. Today, in a few seconds we can access similar content by just typing a keyword or a tag. If personally I like to make a distinction between the different families of musical genres and the styles that have emerged, it is important to know that a musical style is not only based on a specific sound, it also represents sometimes mostly an attitude or a trend. One of the greatest examples of this is Indie Rock. You can ask many different people, I'm not sure you'll have the same definition, nor the same perception.

In reality, it's normal, it's a real mess. Theoretically, Indie Rock is more a kind of commercial status, indicating that an artist or a band is independent from a major label. Officially, this independence has always more or less existed since the sale of records, even from the 50's when LPs were first released, continued in the 60's with garage rock and psychedelic rock. In the 70's, the first cracks really started to appear especially with punk and all the nascent electronic movements, but it was necessary to reach the 80's and 90's for the term Indie to become used and defined as such. Let's be clear, whatever the decades, indie rock is totally dissociable. Initially in the 80s, indie rock was born out of the post-punk "underground" movement that led to Alternative Rock in its second half. There was very clearly a correlation between Alternative Rock and Indie Rock musically speaking. Based on one of the most important pioneers of Alternative Rock: R.E.M. who were never really independent, and quickly became stars. Finally, it is easy to explain the confusion and inconsistencies that revolve around this "musical style". R.E.M. was never considered as an Independent band which is logical given their more "pop" side, but yet they are not so far away from bands like Pixies or Dinosaur JR who are Independent Alternative Rock bands from the same era and who had a similar influence.

As for many specialists and music lovers, the underground and independent side of the artists has always been an ultimate seduction appeal, a guarantee of authenticity and artistic freedom. This is true, but very often opinions are distorted without objectivity when faced with a few more "commercial" or more "pop" ones. In reality it is important to point out that many things Pop become so with time, and that many independents end up joining the "Pop industry" after becoming famous. In the 90's, the term Indie took on more meaning, because we're going through a time when rock had become more authentic again, trying to stand out from the synthetic part of the 80's. It was really during this decade that indie really took on the meaning we know today. In fact, there is a sound, sonorities and an "Indie" attitude that is finally recognizable today. It must be said that its success can be explained precisely by its purist or authenticity phenomena which became real customers, so much so that many record dealers of the time made whole and separate shelves of "Indie".

With CFCE 87.9, we have studied this week this Indie Rock phenomenon which still offers us many excellent albums. It must be said that it's so vast that it's easy to get lost. Especially with all that I tried to explain before. To illustrate this genre, I decided for my part to focus on a legendary band and more precisely on one of the best albums of all times: Pixies - Doolittle, released in 1989. For those of you who are used to reading my reviews, you know that I'm fond of "pioneer" bands that have strongly influenced the evolution of music. It's impossible not to think of Pixies, even if there are many other exceptional examples: like Joy Division, Sonic Youth, The Cure, The Smith, Pavement, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Stone Roses and today bands like The Strokes or Artic Monkeys. Formed in 1986 in Boston and composed of Black Francis (Frank Black), Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering, Pixies is one of the most important bands of the Alternative Rock scene and a reference of independent bands of the time. With their mix of punk and surf rock, their influence became immense, because let's be honest, without Pixies there might never have been Nirvana. And there are many other direct examples, without forgetting the indirect impact.

Yet before they became one of the largest groups of all time, they started from scratch. They had to recruit very hard, they had difficulties to record, their material was ridiculous and was not accepted by any label. Only a small independent label called 4AD gave them a chance. Everything remained to be done. With a convincing first EP full of promise, and by making their talents speak, Pixies exploded the competition and the critics with Surfer Rosa. Moreover, Surfer Rosa is often considered as the best album of their discography according to some fans and professionals, because it perfectly illustrates the raw sound and the incredible delirium of the band pushed to its paroxysm. Obviously their esteem and commercial success attract the solicitations of labels and music distributors who try to get a contract. Pixies had to keep their artistic freedom and their independence, so they first agreed to be distributed by Elektra, and the band also had to make a new producer Gil Norton. When you analyse this situation, you can clearly see what independence means. There are of course several levels of independence, Pixies who had total freedom on Surfer Rosa, finds itself "cohabiting" with a producer/artistic director whose main goal was still to sell records. There are actually "conflicts" between the band and the producer. This is one of the main reasons why Doolittle doesn't look like Surfer Rosa. So is this serious? No, on the contrary, in the sense that a band that evolves and proposes a content that changes, while keeping its level, I don't see what to reproach. On the contrary, it is certain that the album would probably have looked like a continuation of Surfer Rosa. Obviously it's a hypothesis, and then that's all right because after all Doolittle is a masterpiece. In the end this balance of power between the band's decisions and the additions/"improvements"/changes of the production team fortunately led to one of the greatest albums of all time. But it's an essential balance to keep.

So why has Doolittle earned (and deserves) its status as an outstanding classic? First of all, the fact that they contracted a distribution deal allowed them to be exported worldwide and thus to conquer more people. That's how their impact multiplied, much more than Surfer Rosa, making them one of the most influential bands of the 90s generation (grunge, college rock, noise rock etc...). A very important factor in the end. Musically, you have to hear it to believe it, it's both breathtaking and incomparable for the time. Just the monumental slap you get in the intro, with a Debaser of striking animosity. It has to be said that this song perfectly illustrates the delirious subjects and zany references that Pixies almost systematically introduces in every song. There's always this mystical, disturbing or provocative side to them which adds a phenomenal dimension to their writing. Nothing is usual. Nor is Pixies known for delivering personal subjects, their strength really lies in surprise and the unknown. Although less raw than their previous Surfer Rosa, Doolittle remains quite dark, often incorporating a Noise Rock aesthetic or a grunge side, with a potential pop addition wanted. Besides, there is one UFO that stands out and shows how Doolittle is still very underground, it's Here Comes Your Man. This alternative rock classic, which probably had the role of adding a commercial dimension, in order to arouse interest, is clearly the most different song. But it's still a really wonderful song, because it captures the essence of alternative rock by being very catchy.

The whole album, from beginning to end, deserves your attention. Incidentally, as a small aside, even the cover is considered a work of art to this day. Apart from the other treasures found on Doolittle, Monkey Gone to Heaven, Hey or Gouge Away (which I particularly like), each song adds its own added value and stands out from the others. Pixies knew how to surprise, not only in lyrics, but also musically, offering an impressive versatility, being able to vary the rhythms or even accentuate the interpretation, sometimes in the same song. If there's one flaw I can point out, it's that it's still quite complex to understand at first. It's an album that clearly deserves to be listened to dozens of times if need be, but it's important to really give it a chance. Once you're immersed in their universe, that's when you realise you've stumbled upon a rare pearl. Something insane. You can also imagine at the time, what it must have been like. Although Doolittle's huge commercial success was still a surprise. At least it's a consecration. Pixies illustrates the kind of independent band that a lot of young artists would like to become, that is to say, starting from scratch on a path strewn with pitfalls. But that against all expectations, talent and art end up becoming a model for everyone. There are a lot of different histories and trajectories for Indie Rock artists/groups, but they have managed to give back to music their main interest: to do what you like and make people dream

I invite you to read the other CFCE reviews of the week:
by WhatTheFunk: https://www.albumoftheyear.org/user/whatthefunk/album/27775-misery-is-a-butterfly/
by EarCandy:
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