Review Summary: On the album that should have been called "Surfer Rosa," the Pixies adopt a new sound, and craft an underrated LP.
The Pixies were a indie/alternative rock band formed in Massachusetts in 1986. While they never achieved fame during their short seven years as a band, they have slowly gained popularity in years since, in part due to the sizeable influence they had on alternative rock as whole, as the band is largely credited with having sparked the style of quietLOUDquiet dynamics. Bossanova is the Pixies third full-length, on which they assumed more of surf-rock sound and while it is often considered their worst album, it really deserves a second look.
The album opens with the chugging but airy instrumental track Cecilia Ann, which introduces listeners to the Pixies new surf-rock sound. Another track that benefits from this new sound is the laid-back and pretty Ana, which is one of the band’s quietest songs, but in a good way. The two most famous tracks on the album and arguably the best are Velouria and Allison, which, in addition to boasting the classic Pixies mixture of rock and pop and featuring always great backing vocals by Kim Deal, also demonstrate this more easy-going sound. However, the abrasive guitars of the previous Pixies records are not completely absent from the album and rear their searing heads on tracks such as the aptly titled Rock Music, a song which also features perhaps a bit too much of Frank Black’s trademark screaming. My main issue with this track is in fact its placement, as it creates a rather jarring transition following the mellow sounds of Celia Ann. Also in the mix of the first half of the album is the interesting Is She Weird, which has a more stripped down sound, but builds to a powerful finish.
Bossanova truly hits its stride with the block of the four excellent songs Dig For Fire, Down To The Well, The Happening and Blown Away. Dig For Fire boasts a catchy chorus, a crunchy riff courtesy of Joey Santiago and mysterious but poignant lyrics delivered with aplomb by Frank Black. Down To The Well again brings great, piercing guitar work by Santiago for another satisfying song. The Happening and Blown Away are similarly stellar, with great instrumentation and beautiful lyrics from Black. Sadly, the two songs following Blown Away simply aren’t of the same caliber, with Hang Wire being decent, but largely forgettable, and the catchy Stormy Weather suffering from its lack of meaningful lyrics. Another subpar song is the overlong All Over World, which has a great outro, but a middling mid section. Still, Bossanova has a good closer, with the soothing Havalina, which again shows the surf rock influence.
Besides some so-so tracks, my biggest gripe with Bossanova is its production issues. The fake drum sound present of some songs, with its lack of punch and compressed sounding cymbals (see: Stormy Weather) really irks me, and I have no idea why the Pixies chose to use this now dated and generally bad sound. Additionally, Havalina’s ending is marred by an annoying keyboard string sound. However, these are really minor quibbles with an otherwise sound album.
Bossanova is often known as the Pixies’ surf-rock album, as well as the inferior follow-up to the fantastic Doolittle. While the truth of those two statements is undeniable, Bossanova is still strong album in its own right, and is loaded with great songs. Even if it doesn’t coalesce as a whole as well as the band’s previous two records, it in no way warrants the brushing over it often receives and it deserves to be recognized as a solid part of the Pixies excellent discography.