The wave that carried Grunge to the forefront in the early '90s left more than a few bands in the backwash. One of those was the Pixies. A pre-Grunge outfit that formed in Boston, the Pixies were never huge but they had a significant cult following.
In '86, California native Charles Thompson and his roommate, guitarist Joey Santiago, began looking for a bassist. Answering an ad, Kim Deal (originally billed as Mrs. John Murphey) joined, recommending drummer David Lovering. Thompson became Black Francis (later Frank Black) and the group, after Santiago randomly rifled through a dictionary, was named the Pixies.
There were two things that held the Pixies back. First, they were ahead of the curve. That's why they were worshiped by the early adapters but there aren't too many of them. In the end, MTV was reluctant to play the group's videos and failing to get the channel's blessing in the '80s was just about the commercial kiss of death. Not that it was a big concern. The Pixies were hardly a conventional band. Under Francis's direction the group took indie Rock, Surf and Punk and lashed to it Black's impenetrable lyrics that touched on sex, space, mutilation, pop culture (wait, isn't that the same as mutilation?) and all sorts of subjects far off the beaten path.
A bigger problem was the tension between Black and Deal. Deal's contributions were regularly discarded and she eventually reformed the Breeders, a group she was in prior to the Pixies. The Breeders managed to have a major hit with "Cannonball."
But in between the promising beginning and the enviable end, the Pixies made a series of impressive albums starting in '88 with the Steve Albinos produced "Surfer Rosa." The abrasive hard edged guitar sound was a big college radio hit (but nowhere else in the U.S.) and even landed on the U.K. pop charts. There was a buzz and the group was signed by Elektra Records. The following year the cleaner, more polished (figures, they're on a major label) "Doolittle" was issued. The album featured a pair of Modern Rock hits, "Monkey Gone To Heaven" and "Here Comes Your Man," but barely cracked the U.S. Album Chart (#98). Being ever so contrary, the Brits put the album in their Top 10. See a pattern here? The Pixies were far more popular in the U.K. and Europe than in the U.S., and that was pretty much was how it stayed.
Onstage the Pixies were a bit of a spectacle. Francis performed motionless. Deal parlayed an earthy humor while her vocals gave songs an ethereal touch. Most group's have in-jokes. You can't spend that much time with people without developing some bizarre humor. On occasion, the group played their set in alphabetical order. Knowing the punch-lines was a source of pride among fans.
With two albums out and interest building, this would probably be a good time to keep the momentum going and release another CD followed by an extensive tour. But no. The Pixies, tiring of each other, decided to take a break and pursue outside projects. Francis did a solo tour while Deal reformed the Breeders.
The group pulled itself back together for '90 release, "Bossanova." The album contained no Deal songs and was treated to mixed reviews (not that there was a cause and effect).
However, the album contained Modern Rock hits "Velouria" and "Dig for Fire." Problems between Deal and Francis were exacerbating. During a Brixton Academy show at the end of the group's U.K. tour, Deal announced from the stage that this was "our last show." Despite such pronouncements, a fourth album "Trompe le Monde" arrived in '91. There was a stadium tour in Europe but only theaters in the U.S.
Then the group filled the opening spot on U2"s Zoo-TV tour. The '92 jaunt proved to be the group's last. While working on his '93 debut solo album, Francis (now Frank Black) gave an interview on BBC's Radio 5, and announced the Pixies were disbanding. Later that day, he faxed his statement to band members. Nice to be in the loop.
Years later, following a Pixies reunion, and while Deal was out touring with The Breeders, the Pixies announced she had left. "We are sad to say that Kim Deal has decided to leave the Pixies," read a Facebook statement from the band in '13. Deal had traversed the group's '93 hiatus and reformation in '04. "We are very proud to have worked with her on and off over the last 25 years."
The Pixies added guitarist/vocalist Kim Shattuck as Deal's replacement for the band's '13 European tour. Nearly three months later, they released "EP-1," the first of a two EP set.
But Shattuck proved to be a short-timer. Just four months after signing on, she was dismissed by the band. "Super disappointed to learn that my time with the Pixies ended today," wrote Shattuck on a 12/2/13 Facebook post.
The Pixies rolled on delivering "Indie Cindy" in '14. Some tracks had seen the first light of day on EPs. The full-length set was available at independent record shops on Record Store Day (4/19/14) ten days before its' general release date.
"Head Carrier," featuring the single "Um Chagga Lagga," was The Pixies first album with bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle/Zwan), who took over from Shattuck. Tom Dalgety produced the group's sixth studio set (replacing Gil Norton, who had worked on The Pixies previous four albums).
1988 Surfer Rosa
1991 Trompe le Monde
2014 Indie Cindy
2016 Head Carrier
Well, it's obvious that vocalist/songwriter Billy Corgan listened to a lot of the Pixies. The Pixies often sound like a first generation take on the Smashing Pumpkins.
With the exception of college radio and Modern Rock (more or less the same thing), the U.S. ignored the Pixies, and that's too bad. The U.K., who embraced the group, ultimately got it right.
"Best Of The Pixies" contains the group's best known songs.