There is no doubt that the Pixies were a cool band. Possibly even a great band. If you were into “alternative” music in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, then you know that the Pixies rocked, and did it all in a style that showed attitude and intelligence. They may have gotten much of their popular cred from Kurt Cobain’s acknowledgement of Black Francis and crew’s major influence on Nirvana, but fans who can remember music before Nevermind know that the Pixies didn’t need an endorsement to have a huge following and a long string of imitators.
So how cool would it be to have a tribute album to one of the great cool modern rock bands? And how cool would it be if 95% of the songs on this tribute album came from Japanese punk/experimental bands? Surprisingly, very cool.
Okay, so maybe you’re scratching your head and saying, “Huh? Japanese?” Yup. You read it right. It’s the great cliché that bands who may have rabid but ephemeral followings in the States or Europe can be HUGE in Japan. I can’t speak to the Pixies per se, but if this collection is any indication, there’s certainly a chance for Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering to get back together for some quick cash on a flash tour of Japan should the need arise. Not that I think it will. Besides, there is already the 1999 caucasian-filled Pixies tribute album Where’s My Mind on the shelves, so why not try for something different?
And if you gave this tribute disc a shot, you’d be pleasantly surprised. Some of the songs stick to the Pixies originals with faithfulness, other branch out and turn the songs into something completely different. In essence, it’s what a tribute disc should be. And it’s surprisingly cohesive as an album to boot. What struck me the most on the first run through was how many of the vocalists gulping their way through these tracks actually sound like Black Francis. Hidaka from Beat Crusaders, Seiki from Naht, and Satoshi from Drumkan take the prize for sound-alikes here, made even more impressive by the fact that the one non-Japanese band, the London act Seafood, sound like a dead-on reincarnation of the Pixies on “Levitate Me” yet don’t completely overshadow the other efforts on this disc. Of course, there are moments on the disc that border on parody for the vary fact of their Japaneseness. Radio Active’s otherwise excellent cover of “Dead” makes an unintelligible blur of the lyrics as the vocalist (whose name is only credited in Japanese characters) struggles through the English he’s obviously uncomfortable with. A band whose name is only listed in Japanese closes the album with a version of “Gigantic” where the title is sung in such a way that is sounds like “Gig-Ant-Tick”. But the music holds all of these bands in from being more of a joke than a tribute.
Steve Albini, producer of the Pixies’ breakout debut Surfer Rosa and whose recent dedication to noise bands is prolific, would be pleased with some of the treatments on this disc for their experimental flavor. Feed turns in a dub mix version of “Debaser” that calls to mind Mary Hanson of Stereolab. Cowpers do a messy and distorted take on “Bone Machine” that incorporates a slowly growing hum which slowly bleeds through the wall of guitar feedback until it consumes the song. In other places, fairly straight covers of songs reveal some nice surprises. Naht’s version of the classic “Wave of Mutliation” only makes a few changes in the lead guitar at first, but as the song fades out, it blends fluidly (no pun intended) into a beautiful violin solo that pulls the song back and seems to blend the original Pixies version of the song with their slowed down acoustic version from the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack.
Overall, this is a fun, rocking, and solid tribute disc that would be a great addition to any Pixies fan. It also serves the dual purpose of exposing Western audiences to some great Japanese acts that will probably never cross the Pacific into stardom, but who should be recognized for their talent. We can thank Caroline Records’ role as distributors for that. There are only two disappointments, in my opinion, on this album. First, although this disc covers Pixies songs from Surfer Rosa up through Trompe LeMonde, no one did a cover of “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, my second-favorite Pixies song! The second disappointment is that the well-crafted insert features what is apparently a small bio of the Pixies and the bands on the tribute disc, but it’s all in Japanese. Aside from these two quibbles, this is a great album, and will remind you that the reach of great music isn’t just regional, but international.