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The Pixies - Wave of Mutilation: The Best of the Pixies

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Artist: The Pixies

Album: Wave of Mutilation: The Best of the Pixies

Label: 4AD

Review date: Jun. 6, 2004

The Pixies never really wanted you to like them. Or, perhaps, they seemed to play for no one, to play as if the music just came out of them and hearing it was some kind of strange accident. Listening to them was a little like visiting a stranger’s house, fascinating and exciting and scary, all at once. Their influence is well-documented and surprisingly persistent (hello, Jack White…), but the Pixies’ blend of the alien and the intimate remains totally unlike anything else.

Of course, there were always the sweet pop gems such as “Here Comes Your Man,” but songs like “Cactus” really stuck, a track that creepily details an isolated man’s request for his girl to rub her bodily fluids on a dress and pop it in the mail. As a teenager, this wasn’t simply kick-ass rock music to listen to in the parking lot while you took bong hits. The Pixies could be unnerving and distant, and many of their tracks were so unusual that it took repeated listens before they fully revealed themselves. But they still rocked like no one else, and created songs as infectious as anything else in pop.

Lyrically, the band’s sensibility was almost fully realized by singer Black Francis, but the Pixies were all solid noisemakers, as equally adept at quiet intricacies as they were at wall-of-sound barnstorming. Now, of course, Kim Deal and her Breeders have become perhaps more well-known, but the trick of the Pixies was that they, like the Beatles (dare I say it?) possessed a group chemistry that allowed for individual contributions within a dynamic whole.

In the 10 years since their dissolution, it’s been somewhat difficult to assess the legacy of the Pixies, even though their impact on rock music has been pervasive. Sure, a lot of bands in the ’90s sounded like them (often by extension through Nirvana), but what has their work given us? Much like the Velvet Underground, the Pixies were so immediately influential on their contemporaries that their sound has now become a Sound, a basic template for rock music, almost entirely untethered from its source. However, the lasting effect of so much mimicry is that the Pixies sound more unique than ever. After all the Pixies imitators that have come and gone, is there anything as awkward, brutal, and rocking as “Hey,” a song that treats coupling like some kind of grunting, primordial battle?

Francis’ barking, howling, hooting vocal style was, in fact, so strange that no one has really pulled off a facsimile of it since. This is perhaps what has allowed the Pixies to remain undiminished and undiluted, much as no one could fully ape Lou Reed’s laconic singing, even if they figured out the guitars. Anyone can write a quiet-verse, loud-chorus pop tune, but it takes Francis’ hyperactive, guttural wailing to truly animate the songs and transform them into something magical. The songs on Wave Of Mutilation are familiar to all who knew the Pixies: “Gigantic”; “Gouge Away”; “Debaser”; “Bone Machine”; “UMass.” If a “Greatest Hits” collection is somewhat redundant for a band with only four full-lengths to their name, it’s also thrilling to crush all these songs together, to experience the breadth of their achievement. Wave of Mutilation is, ultimately, a great collection of some of the Pixies’ greatest songs, and if 1997’s Death To The Pixies represents a wider field and the band’s live impact, the newest release is an excellent reminder of why this music has remained lodged in our heads for so many years.

By Jason Dungan

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