It's kind of hard to believe the album Doolittle came from 1989. With just a few notable exceptions (Nirvana's Bleach, Soundgarden's Louder Than Love), almost everything released during the last few years of the 1980s sounds very processed and clean. I reckon much of this was due to the early digitization of music—my most common thought listening to music this week was "boy, does this record need to be remastered." But also, there just seemed to be a huge trend toward making everything sound shiny and pristine. Of course, in hindsight, we all know what's coming, with the dawn of grunge just around the bend. But even the most popular grunge record of all time, Nirvana's Nevermind, sounds polished after soaking in the heavy-handed production of Butch Vig.
Which brings me back to Doolittle. Is there another record from the 1980s that sounds this visceral? Kudos to producer Gil Norton for truly capturing the manic energy of Black Francis and company, whose no holds barred approach makes for one of the most energetic records you will ever hear. Ignoring the trend of filling every nook and cranny of a 76-minute CD, fifteen songs are packed into a 40-minute package that seems to emanate directly from Francis's id. Themes of surrealism, death, religion, and torture are played and sung with vigor but not abandon—the songs are somehow cohesive and unrestrained simultaneously.
"Debaser" is a fine representative of this superb album. From the outset we're dealt a bit of a surprise as Francis's ringing guitar line forms unexpected chords against Kim Deal's articulate bass (Dm7 F/A Bb9 F/C). Maybe this isn't really a big deal—these mild dissonances are common in the music of Pixies—but I found it to be rather riveting. Once Francis opens his mouth to sing, attention to such details is impossible as a lyric about "slicing up eyeballs" sung by a maniac is not easy to ignore. Before you think the man completely out of his mind, you should know Francis is merely communicating concepts presented sixty years earlier by Spanish surrealists Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí in their 1929 silent film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), which famously features an eyeball-cutting scene. Yikes!
See you tomorrow in 1999.