The Pixies: “Debaser”
Dateline: Reselect — Day 4, Pixies Week. Although this week has been inspired by the 20th anniversary of Trompe le Monde, there is ample room to celebrate the other achievements of the Pixies as well. And seeing as we’ve already touched on Surfer Rosa, it is most certainly time today to set our sights on what many consider to be the Pixies’ masterpiece, their third full album, Doolittle, released in 1989.
Whereas Surfer Rosa was all about the rough edges, which is only natural with Steve Albini at the helm, Doolittle added a bit of polish to the Pixies sound, without actually reducing the energy level. Gil Norton, who had previously most notably worked with Throwing Muses, was able to harness all that punkish energy and channel it into tighter song structures, giving it a bit of a sheen in the process. The sound was bigger — if Surfer Rosa was the sound of the Pixies rocking out in your living room (with your neighbors pounding on your door to “turn down that racket!”), Doolittle moved that to the more spacious college auditorium, with plenty of reverb to open things up and the energy of the crowd pumping up the Pixies as well. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship between Norton and the Pixies.
Among the many great moments on Doolittle was the lead track, “Debaser.” It starts with a bass intro somewhat similar to “Gigantic,” but then kicks in full force with a dual guitar attack, and Black Francis lets loose with one of his most unhinged vocal performances. Lyrically, it’s pretty off-the-wall as well, a tribute of sorts to the surrealist silent film, Un Chien Andalou, by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. “Slicing up eyeballs” refers to the opening scene of the movie, where an eyeball is indeed sliced open. Without a lyric sheet, it’s a tough song to decipher: who would have expected Francis to be singing the words, “I am un chien andalusia”? For quite a while, I thought he was singing something along the lines of: “Sh-t! I ain’t gon’ lose ya, are you a moon?” Learning the real lyrics made it all the better, because it’s such an insane song. And then Kim’s poppy backing vocals are the perfect foil to the insanity.
It was that same year, 1989, that I saw the Pixies play live twice — once at the Citi club in Boston and the other apparently at Great Woods in Mansfield, MA, according to my friend Judy (I say “apparently” because I had no recollection of where that other show was until she told me this week that she had been one of the friends there with me — it started to come back to me after that). What I am certain of is that they were fantastic the first time, and a little more tired the second — maybe a little of an off day, or just pissed off at each other for some unknown reason. While Black Francis was not the most genial front man either time, his aggressive energy was undeniable, and Kim Deal’s charm more than made up for his stand-off-ishness, while Joey Santiago was simply a wonder on guitar. Fond memories…
UPDATE: Thought it might be nice to add the official video for “Debaser” here as well: