Surfer Rosa is often listed as the debut album from Boston indie powerhouse Pixies, but I’ve always felt this short-shrifts 1987’s Come On Pilgrim which may be brief, but is still excellent. Regardless, Surfer Rosa was released on March 21, 1988. I didn’t hear it in 1988 – I still hadn’t moved past Top 40 music for the most part at that point – but not many other people did, either.
At some point in the early to mid-nineties, my friend Kris introduced me to Black Francis and company. I can’t say what album or what song, or when, specifically, I first heard this record. I do know that when I bought Surfer Rosa on CD shortly thereafter it was a two-for-one, having been packaged to include both Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa on the same disc.
At the time I was introduced to the band’s music, I didn’t have a full appreciation for how revolutionary it was, but I knew it was unique. I wasn’t a fan of most music where the singer screams incoherently into the mic, and Francis was definitely shredding his vocal cords on a number of these tracks.
In fact, early standouts for me included the (slightly) more conventional pop cuts like “Cactus” and “Where Is My Mind,” the latter used to great effect a decade later over the closing credits of Fight Club. Still, even less traditional fare stirred my interest – like “Bone Machine” with the counterintuitive postulate that “you’re so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me,” and the seemingly random couplet of “I was talking to Peachy Peach about Kissy Kiss… He bought me a soda, he bought me a soda, he bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot…” or even “there was this boy who had two children with his sisters…”
And that’s all in the first song! This wasn’t my parents’ rock-and-roll. It wasn’t even most of my friends’ rock-and-roll. There’s a reason this stuff didn’t get played on the radio. But it was captivating and exciting. It still is. So much so that off the top of my head I can think of at least two pop songs that reference this band or this record in their lyrics (Ben Lee‘s “Pop Queen” and OK Go‘s “Here It Goes Again“).
It seems sometimes that I’ll go for months without hearing any Pixies; either I don’t seek them out or nothing pops up at random on my iPod. And then, like today, I’ll go back and listen to an album or two and be stunned anew. It’s a barrage of sound, a cacophony of guitars and drums, bass and vocals, all cranked up to 11 . I can’t explain why I love their music so much when I normally can’t stand most music that fits that same description.
Surfer Rosa is only thirty-three minutes long so I played it three times today in preparation for this review. It is still a mindblowing record. I’m still a little shell-shocked. After an hour and a half of this album cranked up loud it felt like walking away from one of those amusement park slingshot rides. It’s exhilarating, a little scary, takes you by surprise, and ramps up your adrenaline. And then I can’t wait to do it again.