Thursday, 14 March 2013
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 37 Come on Pilgrim
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 37
Come on Pilgrim - Pixies
"I said, I want to be a singer like Lou Reed.
I like Lou Reed, she said, sticking her tongue in my ear."
On the day that Pope Francis I is elected it seems a good time to celebrate his antithesis, Black Francis and his mischievous elfin band.
I remember when this came out it was an astonishment. 4AD was the label of artsy askance records by the likes of The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil and Throwing Muses. Often beautiful, even thrilling. It was also the label of the dark, intense and explosively direct Birthday Party. The Pixies swung between both. Huge riffs, spanish phrases, mixing the obtuse and the direct, the childish and the sophisticated, they seemed like the only band in 1987. The album, with it's oddly disturbing cover became a marker. (Indeed, for some, Vaughan Oliver's covers were reason enough to buy many 4AD releases.)
They went on to record more and perhaps even better albums but the seeds of them all were here, in these reheated demos that Ivo Watts Russell (of 4AD) was convinced to release by his girlfriend. (This may be apocryphal but what the hell, I've always liked apocrypha.)
The songs sound like they dripped from a leak in the collective unconscious. Myth, sexual desire, fear, naiveté, religion, death, incest.... There is a sense of initiation to the secret workings of the mind, the stuff we hide even from ourselves.
"In my motorcycle mirror I think about the life I've led
And how my soul's been aching, all the holes where I have bled
My image spoke to me, yes to me and often said
You are the son of incestuous union"
Joey Santiago's guitar lines seem to take all the old cliches and make them new. He stops and starts, moving seamlessly from minimal notes to crunching riffs, recognisable yet fluid, and at the service of the song. Black Francis' voice is extraordinary, fragile, yearning, bruised, aggressive, confident, terrifying, delicate, confidential....
The first verse of Caribou melds the concrete prison of streets and walls with the prison of the human body while the chorus, the thrice repeated "Caribou" followed by an unangelic call to "repent" suggests a yearning to shape shift, to take to the wilds, to shake off "This human form". Let not the howls, yelps and aches of adolescent lust distract you, there is genius at work here.
"I live cement
I hate this street
Give dirt to me
I bite lament
This human form
Where I was born
I now repent"
Another reason I love this record is that it is one of the few American rock records that properly acknowledges the country's bilingual nature with songs, snatches of songs and word in Spanish interpolated without any fanfare.
But at the end it all comes down to the alchemy of music, the ability to imbue sound with emotion and deepen the words with sound. Black Francis repeating "I've been tired" during and at the end of the song of that name manages to wring every meaning out of the phrase, from spiritual exhaustion to sexual repletion.
A final aside before the music begins. Regular readers may have come across the many celebrity filled anecdotes of Mr Trevor Jones of Miracle Mile and Hissyfit. I have one, too. After a Pixies gig I was in my regular haunt of the time, The Norseman in Temple Bar, in the days before it was redeveloped and sanitised. Turning around to bore someone else to death I managed to elbow a pint glass from a hand. It was Black Francis himself and I had baptised him with some suitably tenebrous guinness, which, I guess, makes me some kind of John the Baptist figure.
HABEMUS CONTRA-PAPAM NIGER FRANCISCUM