Red Letter Day: Pixies and Weezer on Rock Band
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 24, 2008
How’s this for arts and crafts?
Yeah, I know, it’s pretty boring to make a big deal when something new gets released to Rock Band, considering something new comes out every week and it’s probably irrelevant to anyone reading that doesn’t own the game (although I would like to think that at least a healthy chunk of my readers would have enough sense to get it by now). Still, this is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long, long time–the full-album release of The Pixies’ 1989 alt-rock landmark, Doolittle. And as if that wasn’t enough, the Rock Band deities decided to throw in a couple songs off Weezer’s Red to boot. So it’ll give me an excuse to talk about both bands a little, if nothing else.
I always thought there was a kinship of sorts between these two bands. Nirvana gets the most credit for successfully ripping off The Pixies (by their own admission, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a rip-off of Trompe Le Monde‘s “U-Mass,” so much that they almost discarded the song entirely), and they’re certainly far from the only other band to have done so, but for my money, it’s Weezer that really continued The Pixies’ good works after the latter band’s dissolution in the early 90s. Doolittle is the album where the connection is most pronounced. There’s the obvious stuff–the shiny guitar sound, the loping bass lines, the loud/quiet dynamic switches, the way that the hooks are equally constructed around all four mumbers. Listen a bunch of times, though and all sorts of additional small moments of musical foreshadowing start to emerge–the roots of “Only in Dreams” in the bass line to “I Bleed,” the oceanic oblivion of “Surf Wax America” in the lyrics to “Wave of Mutilation,” and the twangy riffage of “Say It Ain’t So” in the hook to “Hey!”
But what links the bands more than these little creative tics are the way both feel. Much is made of what a violent album Doolittle is–the mortality chic in “Dead,” the casual firepower on display in “There Goes My Gun,” and of course the ocular carvings in “Debaser,” among countless other examples–but unlike Nirvana, The Pixies never seemed to be particularly angry. In fact, it sounds like the band is having a blast, playing it loose and willing to throw whatever against the wall to see what sticks. Kim singing a Spaghetti Western ballad? Sure. Letting the drummer bust out his inner Dean Martin? Why not? Goofy mid-song interjections? Tempo changes? Ending the album with your most propulsive song? All good ideas.
It’s an attitude that Weezer would mostly take to heart in their first couple albums, and has thankfully started to do far more of again recently. If The Pixies had stayed around a little longer, I don’t doubt that Frank Black’s goofier ambitions would have eventually steered him in the direction of songs like “Dreamin'” and “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” two of the three songs from Red included in this week’s downloadable content and my personal two favorite songs off the album. This was the problem that I and many others had with Green, which I’ve since come around to but still find it difficult to compare with Weezer’s other work–not only did it feel like the band wasn’t the same group of loveable emo nerds that bared it all, sometimes uncomfortably but always anthemically, in songs like “In the Garage” and “Butterfly,” but it didn’t feel like the same band that goofed off in songs like “Undone” and “El Scorcho.” It didn’t seem like they were having fun anymore. Rivers has since gone completely insane, of course, but he seems like he’s enjoying himself in his lunacy, at least.
Doolittle isn’t my favorite Pixies album–Surfer Rosa was my first love of theirs, Bossanova I feel is their most misunderstood, and Trompe Le Monde is probably the one I ultimately dig the most. But it is their truest classic, in the conventional sense, and not undeservedly so. It’s got the hits, for one, with “Wave of Mutilation,” “Debaser,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Hey!” and “Gouge Away” all ranking among the band’s most well-loved songs. And it just feels like the band’s biggest record, in sound and stature–credit producer Gil Norton for honing in on the band’s unbelievable pop potential without costing them too much of their edge, and creating what for many is probably the definitive college rock album, if such a genre even exists. And besides, deciding between Pixies albums has about as much potential for downside as the Bulls have in choosing between Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley.
A combined 18 great songs out there today–well, maybe only 17, since I think “Crackity Jones” and “Mr. Grieves” only add up to about one great song–repping for two of the best and most enjoybale bands in the history of alternative rock. You’d be foolish not to find a friend with a copy and persuade him or her to shell out about $20 for the chance to re-enact ’em. Sing with me now! “Got me a movie, oh ho ho ho…“