4AD, 1990

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


When a cheery, booming surf-rock cover starts off a Pixies album, you know something isn’t going to be quite right.

Such was the reception given to the band’s fourth album, Bossanova, upon its release in 1990 following the superb major label Doolittle. The sound isn’t all that different, but the songs don’t draw from the same well as before, instead going in a sort of hazy sci-fi-pop direction. Part of the issue is that bassist Kim Deal had formed her side project The Breeders the same year and so contributed no songs here; tellingly, the Breeders’ debut Pod was better received than Bossanova.

That said, it’s still definitely and defiantly a Pixies album, with the same rasping guitar figures, off-kilter songwriting and stylistic variations that immediately mark their sound. You may still not know what the hell Black Francis is talking about, but it involves aliens and space travel and a tribute to Mose Allison because, well, why not? my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It’s also a lot of fun, a bunch of weird two-minute songs that sometimes rock, sometimes float, and never really end where you expect them. It’s less abrasive then Surfer Rosa and less angry than Trompe Le Monde, a sort of Pixies-lite for newcomers wondering why these guys are so revered as statesman of alternative rock. You can’t help but think there would be no Nevermind – or at least, no In Utero – if Kurt Cobain hadn’t heard this album.

And yet it’s usually placed lower in the Pixies pantheon, still making any Best Of 1990 list (and rightly so), but not held in the regard of the previous discs, the way Led Zeppelin III is regarded as lesser than I and II by the general populace but not by fans who know better. If you need to rock, or scream, or need catharsis, you turn to Surfer Rosa, but if you need to be a little goofy and think about a UFO landing in your city, Bossanova is your Pixies album of choice.

Picking favorites is tough. A couple of the songs will piss you off, like the screamy “Rock Music” and the needlessly repetitive “Stormy Weather,” but they’re over pretty quickly and something fun like “Velouria” or “Is She Weird” or “Dig For Fire” or the chunky-yet-dreamy “Blown Away” or the near-anthemic “All Over The World,” which shows a surprising depth of melody under the noise.

If few of the songs here ever make the band’s live sets or either compilation, it’s because they are a little less classic than the older stuff and a little too idiosyncratic to win over new fans. Altogether, this makes Bossanova a little less iconic but a little looser and weirder than Doolittle and Surfer Rosa, which would have been a tough act to follow for anybody.

Rating: B

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