To celebrate the release of new track 'Mambo Sun'
Ben Willmott
10:43 16th October 2020

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What is there left to say about Pixies that hasn’t already been said? They were a one-off, creating their own world of Old Testament fire and brimstone, voodoo and Deep South superstition and generous Hispanic, paving the way for grunge and indeed the whole overground indie revolution of the 90s. They could – and indeed often were - weird and unhinged, singer Black Francis employing whispers and screams in equal proportions, a technique one Kurt Cobain openly admitting to half inching wholesale for Nirvana. But at the same time they knew how to write a proper earworm of a song. 

So that’s what they did. Like so many of the great bands, they came, they saw and they conquered with a succession of awesome albums that straddled the late 80s and early 90s. Then, just as quickly as they’d arrived in our world, they were gone, burnt up by personal differences.

Kim Deal enjoyed a bit of success with The Breeders, Black Francis went solo, but nothing seemed to get close to the heady heights of their former formation. Then, in 2003, the band announced they’d reformed. Initially playing only their former catalogue, but then recording again.

Once again Pixies were part of musical landscape. With such a prolific catalogue, though, there are inevitably loads of great songs that have slipped through the cultural net. So, to celebrate the arrival their new single ‘Mambo Sun’, we decided to go on a deep dive and bring you 11 of their least appreciated – but still awesome – moments…. 

'I've Been Tired'

In a strange echo of the discovery of Elvis, it was 4AD’s secretary who kept insisting to label co-founder (and boyfriend) Ivo Watts-Russell that they should sign Pixies, on the strength of the so-called ‘purple tape’, a demo that, with a bit of sonic polishing, gave birth to the mini-album Come On Pilgrim. Watts-Russell apparently eventually scored them after pounding the streets of New York sampling tracks like ‘I’ve Been Tired’, a strange lyrical concoction of dubious sexual liaisons and Bible references. ”I wanna  be a singer like Lou Reed” comments Black Francis’ hook up, sticking her tongue in her ear. Guitar music was never quite the same again.

'I'm Amazed'

An early broadsheet review of the Pixies live remarked that one of the great things about seeing the band was that if you didn’t like a song, it wasn’t a problem because another one would be along in a minute. Never was that truer than in the case of this breakneck romp from their first album proper, the Steve Albini-produced Surfer Rosa, which has been and gone before you can even adjust to its ferocity. Solution?  Just stick it on again.

'Mr. Grieves'

Doolittle, Pixies' second album proper, contained so many great tracks it’s inevitable that a few would fail to get their day in the sun. With its weird reggae introduction and Francis sounding more deranged than ever - suddenly transforming into something new and unexpected a good three or four times in the space of a couple of minutes - ‘Mr Grieves’ is not a song you often see cited, yet it remains a prime example of the band at their most schizoid and hyperactive. Definitely worthy of rediscovery.

'Is She Weird?'

Bossanova is considered by many to be the high water mark of Pixies’ output and it’s packed with tracks that have made their way into the canon of indie greats; but it’s more than a great selection of hit songs. Oddball moments like this, with its refrain of “is she promised to the night?” go to strengthen the more well-worn and obviously glorious moments. If we had to put money on it, we’d have to say the chances are that yes, she most probably was weird.

'Planet of Sound'

Pixies were already discussing their split by the time Trompe Le Monde was ready to hit the shelves, and its first single did a similar job to their fanbase at the time. At a time when Nirvana were destroying the barriers between rock and indie by incorporating Sabbath-esque heaviness, the band that paved the way for them was burning up in a fireball of rampant AC/DC-style riffing. It’s become a much-loved classic over time, but it’s worthy of inclusion in this list because of the mixed reaction it got at the time. Not to mention this, the weirder-than-weird video that came with it. No, alas, we’ve got no idea whether that’s actually Sean Bean or a weirdly similar öppelganger either.

'U Mass'

Pummeling but funky, hinging on an implausible heavy, brutal guitar riff, this song pokes gentle fun at the political pretentions of the student body of Boston’s finest university and ends up in the glorious revelry of a riotous chorus that declares “it’s educational” with an arched eyebrow. Never a single, the track from final pre-split album Trompe Le Monde has become notorious more recently for its appearance on Jimmy Carr’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ selection, its fairly well concealed ‘c word’ slipping through the censor’s net and making its way onto Sunday lunchtime Radio 4. "Ha ha ha", as Carr himself probably laughed at the time.


“Snakes are coming to your town / in tunnels underground”  You have been warned, and if the lyrics to this classic Pixies combination of jubilant, celebratory chords and bubbling under malevolence weren’t enough to get the message across, there’s the distinctly disturbing video too. Voodoo dolls and gangsters with papiermaché heads running riot in the desert…and a twist at the end that’s a treat for anyone with a sweet tooth, make this promo for the IndieCindy album track a must-see.

'Long Rider'

The video for this Beneath the Eyrie track is full of surfboards and golden sands - give or take the odd child witch - and perhaps that’s only right given there’s a smidge of Beach Boys-style sunkissed glory to the song. A girl drives in the morning light to reach the county line to escape… what?  We never quite find out, but this relatively – by their standards anyway – straight forward tune is a cheery pleasure all the same.

'In The Arms of Mrs. Marc of Cain'

Synthesisers? Drum machines? Gothic, chorus-heavy 12-string guitar strummings? It may not start like the average Pixies track, or indeed any Pixies track that you ever heard, but their familiar trademarks aren’t far away on this track from last year’s Beneath the Eyrie, even if its foundations are a little different too usual. It does seem as if Black Francis’ luck with ladies has improved little, if the lyrics about his latest troublesome other half here are anything to go on.

'Ready For Love'

Not a cover of the Elton John disco classic, you may not be altogether surprised to hear, but rather a track that shows how much the band have evolved since reforming, steadfastly refusing to rest on their creative laurels while keeping their unique character intact. It’s particularly in evidence in Black Francis’ voice, which has taken on the deep, resonant timbre of Leonard Cohen or even Johnny Cash in its maturity.

'Hear Me Out'/'Mambo Sun'

Riding out the inevitable backlash against their ultimately brave decision to not just remain a touring museum piece and suddenly start writing new songs, chances are that their new single ‘Hear Me Out’ may actually get the attention that a new single by one of the greatest and most revolutionary guitar bands of all time deserves. Paz Lenchantin – bass player for the last six years – is given full reign to take on duties, her heavenly voice soaring over this and even better is the cover of T Rex’s camp glam classic ‘Mambo Sun’ on the other side. Not at all the done thing any more, we realise, but you might even consider putting your hand in your pocket and buying a copy. 

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