88/100 — The Pixies — Doolittle (1989)
Bass. Guitar. Drums — one bar each, one after the other. Doolittle starts out perfectly with “Debaser”. And immediately shows you how dark and fun this album is going to be.
Got me a movie
I want you to know
Slicing up eyeballs
I want you to know
“Tame” takes it even darker and more psychotic with Black Francis aka Frank Black’s vocals reaching demonic levels of torture. Yet somehow with it’s menacing tone there’s a sexiness to the “Hips like Cinderella” whisper it opens with. Oh, and that ever present (and super delicious) bass tone ratchets up the tension really well too. The vocal insanity reappears on “Mr. Grieves” with the demented “Hope everything is alri-iiiiiiight” and giggles. Clearly nothing is alright.
I can’t talk about Doolittle without acknowledging Kim Deal’s wonderful contribution to the album. Not only is she responsible for all those great bass lines, but her vocals are the perfect antivenom for Black’s vitriolic delivery. There’s an innocent, doll-like quality about her voice which, while used sparsely, really completes the whole band’s sound for me. One word here, another phrase there, a gentle harmony floating overtop of the chaos; she is the soothing ointment so salve the wounds Black inflicts.
And there are some serious wounds. “Wave of Mutilation” is probably the cheeriest song about suicide ever, where after he drives off a cliff into the ocean Black declares “You think I’m dead, but I sail away on a wave of mutilation.” Similarly, “I Bleed” is just a bunch of metaphors for emotional pain. The pain also gets translated through dark renditions of Bible stories. “Dead” is about King David’s murderous lust for Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, while “Gouge Away” is about Samson’s eyes being gouged out after his betrayal by Delilah and his subsequent revenge/suicide by slaughtering hundreds by bringing down a roof on everyone who had imprisoned him — and on himself.
There are a few filler tracks (“Crackity Jones”, and the Morricone-esque “Silver”) but it’s rare for a song on Doolittle to break the 3 minute mark, so they never overstay their welcome, meanwhile the great tracks burn bright and fast.
“Hey” is one of my favourite tracks with it’s pregnant (pun intended) pauses between phrases, it’s lazy bass line and jangly guitar, and this gloriously suggestive exchange:
“Uh!” Said the man to the lady/ “Uh!” Said the lady to the man she adored…
It’s a great moment of theatre in a overdramatic album — with the result being the birth of a child and the two characters being “chained” together.
“Here Comes Your Man,” a pretty blatant reference to The Velvet Underground’s magnificent “I’m Waiting For The Man,” captures that same balance between nervousness and excitement as the narrator waits to score drugs to take him away to “nowhere plains.” The chorus has some great vocal harmonies as well before the bridge seems to transport our junkie away to a place devoid of pain.
Doolittle is a great record with some seriously catchy tunes exploring the most broken parts of a psyche. It’s a dark trip, but an exciting one. “All I’m saying pretty baby/ La la love you don’t mean maybe.”
Favourite Tracks: “Hey”, “Gouge Away”, “Wave of Mutilation”
Least Favourite Track: “Crackity Jones”