In 1988, Pixies were just an opening act to the more compelling Alternative Rock bands of the era, particularly The Jesus & Mary Chain (“Just like Honey”). Eventually, in the ’90s, when the now established genre started to emit its brilliant, fiery splinters of melodic noise into the Rock mainstream, Pixies became one of the frontline purveyors – along with Sonic Youth (“Kool Thing”), Nirvana (“Come as You Are”), Dinosaur Jr. (“Start Choppin’”), Radiohead (“Stop Whispering”), Weezer (“My Name Is Jonas”), and Bush (“Everything Zen”).
Formed in 1986, in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, by Black Francis (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Joey Santiago (lead guitar), Kim Deal (bass, backing vocals), and David Lovering (drums), Pixies have released six studio albums – from 1988’s Surfer Rosa to 2016’s Head Carrier. Since the debut has turned 30, to pay tribute to Pixies’ legacy and recognize its place in the annals of Alternative Rock, by revisiting it is simply appropriate.
Released on March 21, 1988, through 4AD Records, Surfer Rosa became one of the sonic templates of many bands whose music is attributed to ’90s Alternative Rock – Surf/Psychedelic-inspired melodic and noisy guitars, trademark quiet-loud dynamic, whisper-to-a-scream vocal styling, heavy basslines, and distinctive alternating snare-bass drum pattern.
Surfer Rosa opened with the self-assured stomp, punch, slash, rant, and swagger of “Bone Machine,” which also introduced, right there and then, the now much-loved and much-missed male-female vocal interplay of Francis and Deal. The scathing, slicing, and melodic guitars then became more pronounced as “Break My Body” played next. The ensuing “Something Against You” then switched the gear several notches higher, faster, and more intense – frenetic, chaotic, metallic – which then resulted in “Broken Face!”
The highlight of Surfer Rosa came in the form of the infectious and head-bobbing Deal breaker “Gigantic.” Still in the same pogo-inciting predisposition, “River Euphrates” further exhibited the sweet-obnoxious, loud-quiet, and serious-goofy trademark dynamics of Pixies’ music. Another fan favorite and carrier single, “Where Is My Mind?” was a perfect juxtaposition of grace and bedlam, harmony and cacophony, and control and freedom.
“Cactus” and “Tony’s Theme” further emphasized the distinctive sonic style of Pixies – a little Rock-n-Roll, a tad Grunge, a bit Punk, with Pop sensibilities. With “Oh My Golly!,” Pixies then unleashed their Hardcore and Metal tendencies – ominous, aggressive, imposing, yet still catchy and sexy. The Spanish-word “Vamos” was playful and pesky as it could be, coming across as the equally animated and feisty Violent Femmes (“Add It Up”).
After the Hardcore Punk assault of “I’m Amazed,” Francis, Santiago, Deal, and Lovering finished off their first full-length with the Surf Punk-inspired, almost instrumental “Brick Is Red,” which showed why eventual Alternative Rock luminaries such as Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins (“Bullet with Butterfly Wings”), PJ Harvey (“Down by the Water”), and the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (“Smells like Teen Spirit”) had been enamored with the music of Pixies and were never in denial of their using the band’s style as a template for that of their own.
To this day, Pixies and its music remain influential to many new bands operating within the Indie Rock scene. After all, Pixies have also been back from a long hiatus, releasing its latest album two years ago. In the meantime though, rediscover and relive the music of the seminal band by surfing back to where it all started 30 years ago – Surfer Rosa. Do not just play it. Play it loud!