It should come to no surprise that the Pixies’ second album, “Doolittle,” is one of the greatest albums ever. This was an album that provided something new in the late 1980s and would help set the course of rock music for the decade after.
One year following their debut album, 1988’s “Surfer Rosa,” “Doolittle” feels more refined and visceral compared to the predecessor. Opening track “Debaser” launches with frantic drumming and maniac-like yelling from Black Francis (born Charles Thompson). However, this is contrasted with the grooving bass and soft backing vocals from Kim Deal that brings a calm melody to the abrasiveness of Francis’ voice.
This is continued in tracks such as “Tame,” “Wave of Mutilation” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” where the band implemented the “quiet verse, loud chorus” dynamic into these tracks; soft and melodic one minute until it erupts into a soaring chorus. This method became popular among rock bands that came after the Pixies, most notably with Nirvana using this method with their biggest hits such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Heart-Shaped Box.”
However, not all of the tracks on “Doolittle” strictly follow this method. “Crackity Jones” is a full-speed rocker while “Here Comes Your Man” is a glorious pop song. This helps bring variety to the album and prevents it from being a one-trick pony.
Lyrically, the album provides some gruesome topics. “Wave of Mutilation” is based on stories of Japanese businessmen committing suicide by driving off a cliff. “Gouge Away” features a sexual affair that ends violently. “Monkey Gone to Heaven” talks about the world being destroyed by environmental pollution.
It’s quite horrific when you realize how a song can be so catchy but contain such violent lyrics. Imagine the reaction of listeners upon realizing the meaning of “Gouge Away” hiding snuggly inside the music. “Sleeping on your belly | You break my arms | You spoon my eyes | Been rubbing a bad charm with holy fingers.”
That’s the beauty of “Doolittle;” it’s an album of catchy rock songs that feature lyrics that weren’t found in a typical rock or pop album of the time period. To this day, the album still sounds modern and slick. It’s even more evident in how this album was the precursor to alternative rock in the 1990s. Many bands from that time period have cited them as an influence, such as Nirvana, Radiohead, Weezer, Pavement and Smashing Pumpkins. Even artists from before such as David Bowie praised the Pixies for their sound.
Had the Pixies came around the same time as these aforementioned bands, they would have probably received the same commercial success. However, that would take away from the uniqueness of the band. While they never received the success Nirvana had, there is still a special aura surrounding the Pixies. They were simply a band who were ahead of their time.
The Pixies was very different from other rock bands (mainstream or underground) that existed at the same time as them. It is very hard to believe that they had just arrived when Mötley Crüe, U2 and Metallica were releasing their seminal albums of the 80s. To sum this record up, it was a 90s classic not made in the 90s.
Listen to “Doolittle” on Spotify: