“You fucking die. What? No, no, I was talking to Kim. I said you fucking DIE.”
It’s only a short snippet of a conversation Black Francis held with producer Steve Albini – “we were just goofin’ around,” explains the charismatic frontman, but from such little acorns do almighty oak trees grow. Somehow, this little soundbite would typify the electrifying intensity of those first few years, and perhaps unwittingly hint at the much publicised, supposed rift between Francis and bassist Kim Deal though this was played down by drummer Dave Lovering somewhat in God Is In The TV’s recent interview.
So where do you start with Surfer Rosa? Everybody already knows by now, surely, that it’s one heck of a killer album. Debut 8 track mini-album Come On Pilgrim is included once again as part of the set, as it has for many previous re-issues, the band’s wild energy sounding sharper than ever on these remasters. Francis bellows and screams his way through some of the finest, most invigorating songs ever committed to tape.
So Lovering’s remarkable, urgent drum pounding at the beginning of opener ‘Bone Machine‘ is a real signal of intent, while Deal’s bass provides that slightly uneasy, ominous feel that would pervade much of Pixies work in this early stage of their career. The importance of all members cannot be understated though, with Joey Santiago’s guitar work sounding deceptively simple (I’ve tried to play these songs myself, and it really isn’t!) and Francis’ sometimes absurd, often provocative lyrics really provide the icing on the cake.
Somehow, ‘Broken Face‘ seems a lot clearer here than on previous releases, surely one of the most compelling, exciting pieces of music of the eighties, and I haven’t even mentioned Deal’s Throwing Muses like single ‘Gigantic‘ or the gargantuan ‘Where Is My Mind?‘ yet! The latter is arguably the band’s best known song after featuring prominently at the end of David Fincher’s 1999 adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, but though it’s undeniably a work of utter genius, the truth is that there are probably at least half a dozen tracks BETTER than that one on Surfer Rosa. The explosive near-instrumental ‘Tony’s Theme‘ perhaps, or the frantic, wonderfully demented ‘Something Against You‘. Take your pick really. If Come On Pilgrim was merely a great album with some incredible standout moments (personal picks would be the rampant ‘I’ve Been Tired‘ and ‘Levitate Me‘ double whammy that closes the album), then Surfer Rosa was the one that showed the world that these guys weren’t just contenders, they were bona fide heavyweights, as they would prove to an even greater degree with the (rightly) much lauded follow up Doolittle.
Perhaps the jewel in the crown here though, is the inclusion of a third disc, Live From The Fallout Shelter, a radio performance from 1987, in which the band absolutely nail why they’ve long been regarded as one of the best live acts around for three decades now. The quartet tear through a scintillating array of tunes past, present and even future (‘Subbacultcha‘ was doing the rounds even then, albeit in a far more restrained version, eventually being released four years later, in its better known heavier guise, on the band’s then swansong Trompe Le Monde), with indisputably thrilling versions of ‘Isla De Encanta‘ and ‘Nimrod’s Son‘, as well as to die for takes on ‘Caribou‘ (feral is an understatement) and the always splendid ‘Vamos‘. Also fascinating is the DJ’s interview with all four members immediately after this track.
An essential documentation of why Pixies are quite feasibly the greatest band of our generation.
Surfer Rosa – 30th Anniversary Re-issue is out now on 4AD.