[1 June 2004]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It certainly is a good time to be The Pixies right now. The college rock legends’ reunion tour has been met with such a frenzied reaction by fans, their entire spring 2004 tour sold out in mere minutes, and many dates on their upcoming fall tour sold out seven months in advance. Merchandise at the shows is selling very briskly, limited edition live recordings of their concerts have been selling out just as quickly (and are rapidly sprouting up on Ebay), and MP3s of every show are easily found on the peer-to-peer networks. Few saw this coming, but it’s great to finally see such a venerable band do so well. Of course, when there’s money to be made, you’ve got to pull out all the stops, so why not put out a compilation? Who cares if it’s the second such compilation in seven years… wouldn’t you?
We can still remember the collective groan that came from Pixies fans in 1997 when the Death to the Pixies anthology came out. It wasn’t that it was a terrible collection of songs; hell, with a catalog as deep as The Pixies’ is, it’d be next to impossible to screw it up. No, what made this particular CD so irritating was its paltry running time of 42 minutes. You had all their singles, sure, but along with the eyebrow-raising inclusion of their cover of the surf guitar instrumental “Cecilia Ann”, several important album tracks, like “Hey” and “Vamos”, were nowhere to be found. Also, its tracklisting was annoyingly convoluted, something that was bound to confuse new listeners. Yeah, the disc sounded good, but it was a bit of a trainwreck, too.
With any high profile reunion comes a new host of curious people who want a good, thorough introduction to the band, and although a stranger to The Pixies would be better off getting all four of the band’s studio albums, there’s the newly-released Wave of Mutilation: Best of Pixies for anyone who’s looking for a quick, single disc Pixies primer, and thankfully, it’s a major improvement over Death to the Pixies. Clocking in at a rather hefty 66 minutes this time around, this disc is considerably more comprehensive, a quality introduction to one of the greatest bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Of course, the more well-known, classic songs are all here, just like they were on the previous collection (in fact, aside from the wisely-dropped “Cecilia Ann”, the entirety of Death to the Pixies is on this new CD). From 1988’s Surfer Rosa, you’ve got the jarring, booming “Bone Machine”, the sound of which would become producer Steve Albini’s trademark (a major influence on major artists like Nirvana and PJ Harvey), the desolate “Where is My Mind?”, with those haunting vocal harmonies by bassist Kim Deal, and of course, the playful, sexually charged “Gigantic”, Deal’s finest hour. The band’s second album, Doolittle (1989), yielded the stunning quintet of “Debaser”, “Wave of Mutilation”, “Here Comes Your Man”, “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, and “Gouge Away”, which collectively set the artistic standard for every single alternative rock act that would burst on the popular music scene in the 1990s. Then, from the much maligned, sadly underrated albums Bossanova and Trompe le Monde, there’s the slick powerpop of “Velouria” and “Dig For Fire”, and the thunderous aggression of “U-mass” and “Planet of Sound”.
What’s most important about Wave of Mutilation, though, are the other track selections, and it’s no coincidence that this album mirrors the band’s reunion tour setlists. And yes, those glaring omissions from before, Surfer Rosa‘s frenzied, Latin-fueled “Vamos” (on which guitarist Joey Santiago lets loose), and singer/guitarist Black Francis’s (now Frank Black) demented, yet plaintive love song, Doolittle‘s “Hey”. Also from Surfer Rosa, there’s the twisted, facetious incest tale “Broken Face” (“I got no lips, I got no tongue/Whatever I say is only spit”), and from Trompe le Monde, the tragically overlooked single “Alec Eiffel”, one of Black’s most inventive songs, both in structure and melody. Two noteworthy B-sides are included for good measure, the live staple “Into the White”, and the straightforward, yet charming cover of Neil Young’s “Winterlong”, with Black and Deal engaging in some of their finest vocal interplay. Bossanova continues to be the most ignored Pixies album, both in the band’s recent live performances, and on this CD as well, as the 77 second “Allison” is the only new addition.
Of course, when there’s a career spanning anthology by a respected band, there’s the inevitable debate about what was left out, and good arguments can be made for such songs as “Levitate Me”, “Cactus”, “I Bleed”, “No. 13 Baby”, “All Over the World”, “Motorway to Roswell”, and “In Heaven”. It might irritate some people that the full 79 minutes of the CD wasn’t used, as Wave of Mutilation has room for several more additional tracks.
As far as best-of compilations go, Wave of Mutilation is a very good one, especially when compared to the last attempt. However, if you’re new to the Pixies, and can spare the cash, you’d be much better off to just go and buy the band’s four albums. Or, if you know a diehard Pixies fan with a CD burner, get them to make a good, thorough mix of Pixies classics. If you can’t manage either, then yeah, this one will do just fine.