Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#821 in the Series) is The Pixies, Surfer Rosa
Playing my Surfer Rosa album last night reminded me that the album is not just The Pixies first album, but my favorite album as well. It also reminded me why I keep my record collection in my room away from my kids- the album’s cover features a topless woman who I remember swooning over when it first came out. In case anyone is wondering I bought the album at Sound Stage Direct, which is where I usually get my vinyl when ordering online. Check it out. You’ll find other cool stuff there as well.
People always talk about Surfer Rosa’s subject matter but to me this album is all about the energy. If Surfer Rosa’s lyrics were sung in another language it wouldn’t change the way I feel when I listen to it. In fact there is a Japanese group called The Pillows that have a very similar sound- I recommend checking them out if you’re a Pixies fan.
The album’s first track “Bone Machine” has a 20 second build up that is almost like the introduction to not just the song but the album as a whole. Its lyrics are certainly interesting- “He bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot” is not something you hear every day. The words are sung in a disorganized fashion making the song purposefully unstructured but a pleasure in which to listen.
“Break My Body” continues with the bone motif as “break my body, hold my bones” is echoed again and again in the chorus. Guitarist Joey Santiago’s six notes that follows the chorus are a great touch to the already catchy guitar part.
Tracks three and four are both under two minutes long but bring a high level of energy. “Something Against You” starts out sounding like a ska song but then turns harsh and thrashes you for the remainder of the track. Did ska bands like Reel Big Fish that gained a huge following in the 90’s listen to The Pixies? There’s no saying for sure, but probably.
“Broken Face” keeps up the energy of “Something Against You” with its quirky high-pitched lyrics and fast paced guitar licks. It’s a short track but leads nicely into the fifth track “Gigantic”.
“Gigantic” has a very catchy pop feel to it that’s wrapped in the grungy guitar licks throughout out the song. You can only imagine if Blondie or someone similar had recorded this track how it would have sounded- that’s probably why Steve Albini moved recording equipment into the bathroom while recording Kim’s vocals. Unconventional and experimental recording methods like this made the album what it is but also caused them to take more time in the studio than they had planned.
“River Euphrates” has a spiritual vibe to it and some interesting vocals. The slurring type singing used for the verses and chorus are very unconventional- going back to what I said earlier, it’s tracks like this that make me think I could listen to The Pixies in another language and still enjoy it.
What’s there to say about “Where Is My Mind?” I still get chills when Joey’s guitar part starts in the beginning of the track- the notes are simple but add so much depth to the song, it almost makes it what it is.
“Cactus” has an industrial type of sound that is a bit brooding- the distortion is turned way up to achieve this dark sound. The subject matter matches the gloomy sound, as it deals with a man in prison writing letters with horrifying requests.
“Tony’s Theme” is a play on the archaic superhero theme, but with a surfer influence. The echoing of, “To-ny! To-ny!” during the chorus is a bit silly but in a good way- don’t listen to the track more than a few times or you’ll be singing it in your head for the rest of the night.
“Oh My Golly!” Is another track that has an extremely catchy verse that you can’t help sing along to when you’re listening. The track also an interesting conversation between Francis and Albini- Francis is explaining to Albini what he had said to former band member Kim, which happened to be “you fucking die”. I always tried to figure out what the context was when I was younger; I only recently learned that he was not actually being serious.
“Vamos (Surfer Rosa)” is appropriately titled- the song starts out with Spanish being spoken before its panic stricken lead guitar part starts kicking in and pandemonium ensues. The best way to describe “Vamos” is that it’s a controlled burn that looks like it could get out of control but manages to contain itself.
“I’m Amazed” also starts with banter before spiraling into a tizzy of a song. Kim Deal was telling a story not knowing Albini was rolling tape. The story was apparently about an old teacher at her school that was having inappropriate relations with some girls on the field hockey team. Right as she says, “and then the next thing you know” the song starts.
“Brick is Red” is the perfect final track for Surfer Rosa- it wraps the album up nicely with a more mellow rhythm guitar part and some sharp parts from Joey on lead. “Brick Is Red” almost sounds like it could be a song played at the end of a television show- the lyrics “It’s not time for me to go” are ironically perfect for a final track, and leave you wanting more.
Listening to Surfer Rosa leaves me feeling satisfied like I just ate a good meal- it’s an album I can listen to almost any time, but especially if I’m drinking nice whiskey and sitting in my favorite chair.
All tracks written by Black Francis, except where noted.
- “Bone Machine” – 3:02
- “Break My Body” – 2:05
- “Something Against You” – 1:47
- “Broken Face” – 1:30
- “Gigantic” (Francis/Kim Deal) – 3:55
- “River Euphrates” – 2:33
- “Where Is My Mind?” – 3:53
- “Cactus” – 2:16
- “Tony’s Theme” – 1:52
- “Oh My Golly!” – 1:48
- “Vamos” – 4:18
- “I’m Amazed” – 1:42
- “Brick Is Red” – 2:00
- Black Francis – vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar
- Kim Deal – bass, backing vocals, vocals on “Gigantic”
- Joey Santiago – lead guitar
- David Lovering – drums
Listen to it in its entirety below, song by song