A young band walks into a studio, and a producer tells them, “You folks have 20 minutes to show me what you can do.”
Within that time period, and over eight tracks, the Pixies showed him. Call Come On Pilgrim a glorified EP if you like, but singer-guitarist Charles Thompson (then known as Black Francis, now Frank Black), bassist Kim Deal (married at the time, hence the “Mrs. John Murphy” on the credits), lead guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering pack more sonic power, vocal intensity, and original songwriting and arranging into this CD than most bands who give us three or four times more audio on a disc.
Emerging from a Boston scene that gave us some of the most inspired, skilled and accomplished bands of the golden age of alt-rock, the Pixies made their bid to become the genre’s new Beatles. The elements seemed relatively simple, and easily translated to an energetic stage show. But who would have thought to put together surf music, Spanish, aliens, violence, incest, etc. in a package that goes down the pop gullet as smoothly as that of the most outré college and indie rock fan?
Like the Velvet Underground before them, the Pixies’ legend and fandom only grew after they broke up. Unlike the Velvets, their reunion (check out the 2006 DVD “Loud Quiet Loud: A Film About the Pixies”) proved both a musical and commercial success, leaving fans begging them to get back in the studio and give us some more. But then again, that’s how one felt if they heard Come On Pilgrim 20 years ago.
The Pixies — Come On Pilgrim: Track-by-track review
They had us before Frank even opened his mouth. Joey’s baroque picking and tremolo on the solo introduces the matador. Frank demonstrates some range even before he gets to the chorus, showing us how long he can hold the last syllable of the title while Joey thrashes behind him.
Then, the loud, anguished shout of “Repent!” as the guitar swells up behind him. For a band making its first record, why not begin with a vocal and instrumental tour de force? At 3:14, “Caribou” is the album’s longest track.
Lyrically, a product of the six months Frank and Joey spent in San Juan on a break from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst before journeying to Boston. Don’t fret if you don’t know much Spanish (the positives of moving in with a sister in New Jersey) and only understand the phallic references and leering at the mom and the maid, the power still translates well. Even if your first language is Swahili, you’ll be rocked by the rollicking chorus and Joey’s jamming against Dave’s rolling before the song cuts out abruptly.
3. “Isla De Encanta”
Is this the rockingest Spanish-language album ever or what? For the record, the chorus is: “Island of the Enchantment, I’m leaving!” This quickie features Joey’s scruffy riffing and Frank shrieking at the top of his range.
4. “Ed Is Dead”
The title is a rhyme, and it’s euphonious, so why not build a song around it? For even more fun, let’s build in some stuttering, from both Joey’s guitar and Frank’s “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.” And Kim brings the kind of little-girl voice you would never expect from such a heavy smoker to the chorus.
5. “Holiday Song”
Yes, Frank gets pretty dark, singing about the horrible things he’s doing to his sister, and he sounds like a pit bull barking the chorus. But it also illustrates the three-stroke rhythm machine at full speed. Frank’s guitar, whether electric or acoustic, ups Kim and Dave’s output another several notches behind Joey’s alternating strum and bang.
6. “Nimrod’s Son”
Most singers would deliver a line like “He was the son of a motherfucker” or “He was the son of incestuous union” with menace and malice. Instead, Frank is inviting us to sing along on this country-flavored number. Joey gets downright Appalachian before he and a shouting Frank bring the song swaggering home.
7. “I’ve Been Tired”
In a nearly girlish voice, Frank brings the gangsta rap on one hand, but would a real G fear a whore with disease? It comes across endearingly geeky over a tight rhythm track, and Joey’s successive riffs increase in power before the whole enterprise comes shambling to a halt.
8. “Levitate Me”
Over crunchy guitars, Frank waxes spiritual (or as close to it as somebody with his lyrical obsessions possibly can) before his voice speeds up on the chorus. Just when you think it’s a sweet and polite way to end such an abrasive and twisted piece of work, though, Frank changes a key word of the final chorus, discarding “fawn” for “Won’t you please run over me?”
The Pixies are like a close friend with a sick sense of humor you know is thoroughly evil, but you can’t help but smile and feel delighted anyway.
Come On Pilgrim by The Pixies
“Isla De Encanta”
“Ed Is Dead”
“I’ve Been Tired”