I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way the Pixies became The Velvet Underground of Generation-X, meaning that they never sold a lot of albums during their heyday but they seemingly influenced damn near every alternative rock band who came after them. This mini-album was originally recorded at Boston’s Fort Apache Studios and featured 17 songs on what was then unofficially known as The Purple Tape, which Ivo Watts-Russell trimmed down and released on his label, 4AD, best known for their ethereal pop. Many of the nine songs that did not make Come On Pilgrim would appear in reworked form on their other albums, and the original versions of these songs were belatedly released by Sonic Unyon records as Pixies in 2002.
Anyway, as for the eight songs that are here, they pretty much show off the band’s strengths right from the get-go, even if there are few top-tier Pixies classics here. By that I mean that group leader Black Francis (later Frank Black and really Charles Thompson) already had his dramatic whisper to a scream vocal delivery down pat, and the band at times (but not all the time) deliver the soft-to-loud dynamics and exciting buildups/explosions that they’d become best known for. The background vocals of bassist Kim Deal (then known as Mrs. John Murphy) sometimes offer a sexy yet girlish counterpoint, but not as often or as effectively as on subsequent albums, where the band’s impeccable vocal chemistry became one of their most inviting characteristics.
As for the rest of the band, certainly David Lovering shows himself to be a first-class rock drummer on the brief but hard charging “Isla de Encanta,” and lead guitarist Joey Santiago delivers crazed, utterly unique guitar runs to “Vamos” (yes there’s something of a Spanish flavor to the album). His strange, surf-y guitar playing on “Nimrod’s Son” also may not be something that you’d ever find in a textbook, but it sure is interesting even if his playing (and the band’s sound in general) can be something of an acquired taste. “Ed Is Dead” is more straightforward and is deceptively catchy, as is “I’ve Been Tired,” which features none-too-subtle lyrics, a rarity for a band better known for their obtuse, surreal, and (let’s face it) often nonsensical subject matter. Then again, it’s the Pixies unique chemistry and strangely compelling sound that always made them special, plus they also had a gifted songwriter (two actually, but more on that later) in Francis, who wrote the vast majority of the band’s material. The best songs here are the most melodic and memorable ones: “Caribou,” which features those soft-to-loud dynamics and has a catchy one word chorus, “Holiday Song,” with its good groovy riffs, and “Levitate Me,” with its hooky guitar lines and singable vocals.
This consistently strong first set, which at the time was only available in the U.S. as an import (the band were always much bigger in the U.K./Europe than the U.S.), got the band off to a rock solid start, but they would go onto even better things.