The Pixies: “Alec Eiffel”
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.)