Happy 30th Anniversary to the Pixies’ second studio album Doolittle, originally released April 17, 1989.
In 1994, fanzine Forced Exposure asked Steve Albini what he thought of the Pixies. Albini, who had produced their 1988 debut album Surfer Rosa, said, "A patchwork pinch loaf from a band who at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rock. Their willingness to be 'guided' by their manager, their record company and their producers is unparalleled. Never have I seen four cows more anxious to be led around by their nose rings.” Luckily for the band, Albini’s scorn has been mostly uncommon and they followed up the critical success of Surfer Rosa with the similarly beloved Doolittle.
Doolittle was produced by Gil Norton, who had previously worked with other seminal ‘80s indie bands Echo & the Bunnymen and Throwing Muses, the latter group recent tourmates of the Pixies. Norton’s glossy sound was a far departure from the band’s previous producer (and apparent enemy) Steve Albini, creating a product more polished than punk. But Norton came to the group recommended by Ivo Watts-Russell, founder of 4AD, and helped in establishing some of their biggest hits.
Released by the British indie label in 1989, and later in the US by Elektra records, Doolittle has all of the Pixies’ best parts in peak creative mode. Black Francis’ songwriting is brief but jam-packed with smatterings of allegory. Kim Deal’s throbbing bass, though it loses some of its edge when mixed with front and center percussions from David Lovering, remains the beating heart of the band against the flourishes of Joey Santiago’s guitar.
The hardcore howl of Black Francis, brilliantly paired with Deal’s angelic harmonizing, kicks off the album on “Debaser,” a track that would gain a second life when released as a single years later. The lyrics are a smattering of Surrealist imagery, another Black Francis embellishment. It’s uptempo pop, but with Pixies’ bite.
“Here Comes Your Man” is delightfully accessible, the Pixies’ most entry-level song to date. A song the band at first thought was too pop can be seen as the direct influence of Norton. With its twangy guitar opening, “Here Comes Your Man” is perhaps the most instantly recognizable song of the Pixies’ career, but was pushed out of setlists later by a band far less charmed than the rest of us.
Despite the catchiness of the aforementioned songs, Doolittle is still a rock album. “Dead” and “There Goes My Gun” have the intense, loud guitars, quickly followed by sweet moments of Beatles-style charm. “Mr. Grieves,” “No 13 Baby,” and “Crackity Jones” are wild rides, lyrics barked over crashing drums, all flamboyant performances from Black Francis.
One of several tracks that has left an imprint on indie rock is “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” The first single off the album, the lyrics vaguely reference nature and religion, with a repetitive drone of, “this monkey’s gone to heaven,” in the background. It’s also the first time the Pixies’ would include more musical elements outside of the original lineup, adding cello and violin to the haunting track.
Years later, when asked again about the Pixies, Albini retracted the jab, admitting perhaps he should have given them more credit. That reaction could easily sum up the Pixies’ career. That feeling of not truly understanding their impact in the moment, as dismissing them as scattological college rock, only to see them influence several of the greatest musicians of the 1990s and 2000s (in addition to years of strong sales of an album originally released in 1989). Doolittle is a cornerstone in that legacy.