I first heard about the Pixies when I was reading about Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain; the grunge legend said that he was ripping off Pixies’ quiet and loud style in Nirvana’s biggest hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit. I decided to try the band out, and started listening to their first full album, Surfer Rosa, which was recorded in just over a week and released in 1989.
The first song I listened to was Where Is My Mind?, probably one of the American band’s most famous songs. Immediately, I was hooked. The crawling guitars and nonsensical yet poignant lyrics combined with the eerie, haunting backing vocals made me love this song. It makes you feel a whole range of emotions, all in just under four minutes
The thing I love most about this album is the way that the band did whatever they wanted. Vamos is the best example of this; most of the song is in Spanish, and there is Joey Santiago’s three-minute guitar solo that made it unmarketable yet fantastic. My personal favourite is Bone Machine, the opening track. It is probably the song that Cobain copied most on the Seattle band’s hit. Lead singer Black Francis and bassist Kim Deal’s vocals work very well together, and the guitar riffs are brilliant. Some songs certainly take punk influences, such as Something Against You. This track begins with a bright, jolly guitar sound before slowly getting darker until it is a huge cacophony of noise. The lyrics of ‘I got something against you!’ sound like Francis was locked in a room screaming to the outside.
The eventual split of the band in the 90s (although they reunited in 2003) was partly due to Kim Deal’s want to sing more songs and take more influence over what music they played. She did get her wish on Surfer Rosa, as she takes lead vocals in Gigantic, which proved to be the only Pixies song she would sing lead vocals on. This is one of the best songs on the album, with her haunting vocals backed up by a stadium rock sound. Most songs on the album are pretty short, only a couple of minutes long. The album in full only lasts 35 minutes, although it feels like longer. It makes the whole album quite easy to listen to in full, which is difficult to achieve.
This album has been heralded as one that helped bring in a new wave of alternative rock, and it’s very emotional and thought-provoking one. Pixies may be better-known for their slightly later stuff that has a happier, more indie vibe. However I think Surfer Rosa is them at their rawest and best.