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Oct 11

The Pixies: “Alec Eiffel”

The Pixies

Giving new meaning to the phrase, "icy stare"...


For Day 3 of Reselect.com’s Pixies Week, we return to the joys of Trompe Le Monde, the final album by the Pixies, celebrating the 20th anniversary of its U.S. release on Elektra this Saturday, October 8th. And the song I’m selecting to highlight today is the hard-rocking tribute to the architect of the Eiffel Tower, “Alec Eiffel.” Yes, you heard me right, tribute to an architect. Who writes songs like that? Well, aside from Simon and Garfunkel (“Frank Lloyd Wright”), the Pixies! That’s who. You never came to expect the expected from Black Francis when it came to subject matter.

The hero of “Alec Eiffel” is Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower, which was built for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris, France. And here’s a lesser-known fact: Eiffel was also the designer of the inner support structure — the “armature” — of the Statue of Liberty. But this song focuses on the Eiffel Tower, that famous icon of Paris, and specifically how it wasn’t really appreciated by Parisians when it was first designed and built by Eiffel:

Pioneer of aerodynamics
They thought he was a real smart Alec
He thought big and they called it a phallic
They didn’t know it was panoramic
[…]
They didn’t want it but he built it anyway

There’s no evidence that Eiffel ever went by the name “Alec” (in fact, he was mostly known as “Gustave”), which leads me to believe that the song was titled the way it was simply so that Francis could use the pun “smart alec” (and that phrase always brings me back to memories of my heavily accented German grandfather calling people “smartalicks”). As for the background refrain, “Little Eiffel/little Eiffel,” I did a little research and apparently Eiffel was only about 5 feet tall — a little man with big ideas.

So back to the song: “Alec Eiffel” bursts out from its opening moments as though The Pixies were already rocking the song and the recording engineer pressed the “Record” button partway into it. There certainly isn’t a dull part of the song…it charges headlong from beginning to end, without break. As much as the guitars rush through, the real star of the song is David Lovering, pounding away on the drums for all he’s worth. All told, “Alec Eiffel” is the musical equivalent of the Pixies running full-speed through Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport, trying to catch their flight back to America before the doors close…

…Which certainly would have worked as an idea for the song’s video, but instead, the Pixies did this cool wind tunnel video for the song. (Note the presence of Eric Drew Feldman, “fifth Pixie” on Trompe le Monde for his work on keyboards, and future member of Frank Black’s solo band.)

8 Comments

  1. Terry McDermott says:

    Brank Flack – what a stupendous lyric writer guy. always on the edge of ‘just a bunch of words and phrases that i threw at the wall’. he teetered but always seem to totter back on closer listening.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      Brank Flack: Would he be Roberta’s brother?

  2. david says:

    i remember listening to “trompe le monde” in my car for the first time, and thinking that “trompe le monde”/”planet of sound”/alec eiffel” was all one song. “the sad punk” started, and i thought it was the second song — i was surprised to see that it was on track 4.

    in my opinion, these 3 songs make up what is probably the best 3-song opener on any album. TLM was my first pixies album, and a personal favorite. happy 20, trompe!

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      There’s definitely a sort of unity to those three songs that then changes up on “The Sad Punk”…definitely a trilogy of sorts, especially being as brief as they are.

  3. Will says:

    Perfect description of the opening of the song. It always hits you in the face, totally off-guard.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      It’s hard to imagine the song starting any other way, isn’t it?

  4. Jana says:

    I named my favorite dog ‘Pixie Black Francis’. Pixie, a setter-retriever-lab-chow mix of 100 pounds, lived to be 17.

    I know. No real reason to share this fact. But I stopped here because this is my favorite Pixies’ song, and my dog story just fell out.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      No, that’s a perfect reason in itself to share the fact! I love hearing that kind of stuff…thanks.

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