Picks and Pans Review: Doolittle

updated 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT


Other 1980s bands have tried to sharpen the dulled edge of rock by taking old ideas to new extremes or by adding intellectual gimmicks. The Pixies keep their technique simple and disciplined. Every guitar chord, every drum beat adds something crucial to the 15 short songs in the Boston quartet's third album. Every cackle and scream of lead singer-songwriter Black Francis helps heighten taut emotions. No studio knob twirler could impose such a balance of restraint and wildness; it comes directly from the band. Even Kim Deal (whose stage—and real—name used to be Mrs. John Murphy) holds together nearly every song with insistent, contrapuntal melodies, instead of wimping around in the background like so many bass players.

At their best the Pixies trample the line between chilling viciousness and sarcastic self-parody. Titles such as "I Bleed," "Dead," "There Goes My Gun" and "De-baser" can't be taken any more seriously than a song titled "Tame," which, in true Pixies style, is anything but. The minimalist lyrics of "La La Love You" expand little upon the title, yet the tough-edged accompaniment gives the song an unstated eloquence, an '80s mix of cynicism, passion and aggression. As the decades eat away at the avatar of hard rock, it has evolved from a strident rebel into a clichéd clown. The Pixies clearly want to get it back in shape, as a brutal, bleeding giant. (Elektra/4AD)

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