On Doolittle, Pixies fulfilled the potential that Surfer Rosa had hinted at, with more fully developed songs that further integrated melody within a more polished, less abrasive (but still not exactly easy listening) sound that can at least partially be attributed to the influence of new producer Gil Norton. Despite the increased accessibility, the Pixies still managed to maintain their highly idiosyncratic edginess and full throttle guitar attack, and as per usual Black Francis unleashes a series of screams and yelps along the way. Fortunately, Francis varies his vocal delivery more and has better learned the value of restraint, and he is once again aided by Deal’s perfectly charming backing vocals, which are more prominent than previously. So are the surf guitar bits, while the band’s pure pop harmonies recall classic girl group combos, as their jarring, much-copied soft-to-loud volume shifts become even more pronounced (Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins would later take this aspect to another level).
‘Debaser’ is the quintessential sound of The Pixies in full-flight, the one song that springs to the mind of many fans if forced to choose just one song to represent the group. This is switching between quiet and loud but done so much more dramatically than anything they’d done before. Black Francis sounds positively inspired and screams for all he’s worth, Kim adds the usual sweeter backing harmonies. Instrumentally, ‘Debaser’ is faultless. It’s a classic Pixies song. ‘Tame’ following on from ‘Debaser’ where the switching between quiet and loud is even more pronounced and the Black Francis scream becomes so impassioned it’s almost scary, is a stroke of genius. Nobody else has ever given a vocal performance quite like this that I can recall. It’s a wonder he could even speak after recording it. And, things get even better when the poppy ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ arrives and the sequencing is just so perfect. The surf guitars, the mellow vocals, the lyrics…. ‘drive my car into the ocean, you think I’m dead….’
‘I Bleed’ opens with very deep bass notes, Joeys guitar arrives, the lyrics and vocal performance are both wonderful and inspired and the guitars through the chorus classic Pixies guitars. ‘Here Comes Your Man’ is more surf guitar but this time married to an even better song, a pop song? Yeah, you could call it that. Had the Pixies had enough of a public profile at the time, this could have been a huge hit for them. It’s just a sunny, sweet and joyous song that adds further variety to ‘Doolittle’ which is already their most varied album at this stage, but still manages to somehow retain a common sound. That’s the best way, the best combination of things. ‘Dead’ is great to sing along with, and the bass guitar is again notable here. ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ is perhaps the best known Pixies song, and still sends chills down my spine with it’s use of Cello and Violin, and seemingly touching lyrics that fail to make any sense. It matters not one single iota, this is a truly beautiful song. ‘Mr Grieves’ entertainingly opens the second side of the record with a little Kinks ‘Dead End Street’ descending bass line, mixed in with a single riff and a half laughing, half stuttering vocal. It becomes another distinctive Pixies song introduction. Happily, the rest of the song is even better with sparkling guitars and another beautiful yet powerful vocal performance. ‘Crackity Jones’ restores the demented guitars and trashing exactly when the album needed it. This is as exhilarating and raw as anything from the first two albums. And then? Drummer Dave Lovering gets to sing a song! It’s not the best song on ‘Doolittle’ I guess, and he does struggle slightly with the vocals but it’s just his voice is so deep and crooning, it’s just hilariously funny. Matched with a classic Pixies semi-surf guitar strum, wonderful sounding guitars – and you have something that becomes a work of perhaps unintended genius, but genius all the same. Genius? I’ve used that word before on this page. The Pixies are the kind of group people sometimes reserve for that word, and ‘Doolittle’ of all their albums is the one that showcases their full range of achievements and styles.
‘No 13 Baby’ may initially sound to you like a reprise of ‘the sound of doolittle’ and true enough, this isn’t as startling a song as much else of what’s here, but…… the strummed guitar and Charles off in the distance vocal through the quieter sections are a joy all the same. It’s still a mighty fine song in my book, with some entertaining Joey guitar notable in particular. ‘There Goes My Gun’ is a throwback structurally to ‘Surfer Rosa’ or ‘Come On Pilgrim’ but Kim sounds wonderful here on Bass and vocals, and each group member takes a turn to sing a line of the lyric, ‘friend or foe’, which is fun. ‘Hey’ opens with a spine chillingly beautiful vocal. Equally as beautiful restrained guitars come in. ‘Whore in my bed, BUT HEY!’ sings Black Francis, as well he might. ‘We’re chained….’ continues the lyric, the guitar soars – another beautiful moment on an album full of them. ‘Silver’ features a dual lead vocal from Kim and Frank as well as Slide guitar which works astonishing well in giving the song a truly timeless feel. ‘Gouge Away’ finishes things off with more stupendous vocal screaming. A powerful song to close an utterly listenable album that really does have it all.