Pixies Doolittle

KCIt’s taken a couple of days to write this because I wanted to listen to Doolittle a few more times and organize my thoughts about this CD (that’s why we’re a little out of order), but since I haven’t stumbled upon the key to this album, I’m going to take a shot with what I’ve got instead of procrastinating further.

The Pixies fall into a strange category of bands, namely groups that I don’t really like that are almost universally liked by friends whose taste in music I respect.  (Steely Dan, here’s looking at you).

I understand, logically, why the Pixies are important – their harsh, unyielding sound informs Nirvana and their poppier pieces run through Weezer, but in this case I’d much rather listen to the students than to the masters.

Part of my problem is just the volume.  While I have nothing against noisy music (Nirvana again comes to mind), Doolittle is hard for me to listen to in one sitting.  In the car, it’s overwhelming.  On headphones, it hurts.  When my four year old son asked to listen to what I was playing, I let him put one of my earbuds in.  He made it through four songs and, if he is to be believed, he liked three of them, but Dead finished him off.  That’s about my limit, too.  Years ago I saw the Pixies play at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell and it remains the single loudest non-club show I’ve ever attended.  But I made it through the show and I’ve made it through Doolittle.

What I’ve learned after repeated attempts to deal with Doolittle is that not all music needs to be consumed as an album (iTunes has made a fortune off of this) and this is one of those CDs that rewards picking and choosing.  For everyone who likes Monkey Gone to Heaven there’s another person who gravitates more towards Debaser.  Here, as you might have guessed, I prefer the “softer” material with a side order of noise.  You don’t need to hear every song on this album every time you listen to it, but because the band chose to go in 15 different directions, you can always find a place that fits your mood.  But be careful – if you’re not quick, the next song could blow your speakers.

Duran Duran’s Greatest

DuranDuranGreatestPop music from the 1980s is probably one of the biggest gaps in my collection and, frankly, I don’t plan on plugging that hole any time soon.  This album, which is not arranged in chronological order, features all of the Duran Duran songs that anyone who doesn’t care much about Duran Duran could ever want to own (here’s looking at you Girls on Film, Hungry Like the Wolf, Rio, A View to a Kill, Notorious and Ordinary World) plus 13 other basically interchangeable songs.

A couple of quick takeaways.  First, most of the bass lines, especially on the early songs, are strictly disco runs, which I didn’t expect to hear so explicitly in the 80s, but this seemed much less strange once I discovered that Nile Rodgers produced a bunch of these songs.  Second, I think that one of Duran Duran’s enduring influences is the production value of their music videos.  When you listen to this album without the visual cues, the music seems hollow.  I’m glad that I have the six necessary songs from this album and I’m also glad that the closest I ever really got to liking Duran Duran musically was through a sample on a Biggie album.

AC/DC’s Back in Black

I’m rolling thunder pouring rain
I’m coming on like a hurricane
My lightning’s flashing across the sky
You’re only young but you’re gonna die

-Hells Bells

AC/DC’s Back in Black is, alphabetically, the first album in my CD collection.  What a way to start, huh?

AC/DC is a divisive band – the haters really hate them and the lovers . . . well, do you know anyone who is a truly hard core AC/DC fan?  They’re a different breed.  Even within the AC/DC fan community, this particular album appears to mark a turning point.  It’s the first album the band produced after Bon Scott pulled a Hank Williams and it’s Brian Johnson’s first album with the band.  (As an aside, is there another person who came into an established band, mid career, and was an essential part of a massive album like Brian Johnson was here?)  Back in Black, much like Metallica’s album with a similar cover, also represents AC/DC’s biggest selling album and stands as the pinnacle of their mainstream success.  Like it or not, you wouldn’t have most of the rock and roll that you probably love from the 80’s without Back in Black.

Nothing about this album is subtle, starting with the all-time classic riffs in Hells BellsBack in Black, You Shook Me All Night Long and Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.  Then you come to the lyrics.  For instance:

Don’t you struggle
Don’t you fight
Don’t you worry cause it’s your turn tonight
Let me put my love into you babe
Let me put my love on the line
Let me put my love into you babe
Let me cut your cake with my knife

-Let Me Put My Love Into You

Wonderful.

And that’s my biggest problem with Back in Black.  Even allowing for a huge helping of “things were different back then”, I can’t get past the fact that AC/DC, and a lot of AC/DC fans, probably take these lyrics seriously.  (This will come up again, with a slightly different result, when I talk about Frank Zappa).  So even though the music is an all time great course in power rock, the lyrics are so over the top that they actually manage to detract from the album, which, given the scope of the production, is hard to do.  Still, everyone knows these songs, and for good reason – despite many imitators, there is nothing like Back in Black.

We’re just talking about the future
Forget about the past
It’ll always be with us
It’s never gonna die
Never gonna die
Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution
Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t gonna die
Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution
Rock ‘n’ roll is just rock ‘n’ roll

-Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution