Album: Surfer Rosa
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While many cite the early years of the 1990's as the "birth" of what came to be called "alternative rock," the fact of the matter is that it had been around for many years before then, and many of the biggest bands of the 1990's cited these very artists as the inspiration for their sounds. These musical visionaries who wanted nothing to do with the "hair metal" craze that dominated a majority of the 1980's constantly looked for new ways to make "true" rock music and though they created some of the most amazing and important music in history, they remain "second tier" bands in the eyes of most critics. Yet one can easily make the case that the lack of the "hair metal" movement would not have had a big impact on the overall history of music, the bands that pioneered the "alternative rock" genre simply cannot be replaced, nor their importance overlooked. Along with the likes of R.E.M., Sonic Youth, and Hüsker Dü, there was a quartet from Boston, MA that remain one of the most influential bands in history, and there are few sounds that can compare to the amazing music of The Pixies. Constantly striving to put a new spin on the "rock sound," their 1988 debut record, Surfer Rosa, remains one of the greatest rock records ever recorded, and countless bands point to it as a major inspiration on their own music. Filled with unique sonic experiments, held up my some of the finest musicianship of the day, the album does not have a "down" or "off" moment anywhere over the thirteen songs, and few songs better represent the overall greatness of The Pixies than their classic tune, "Gigantic."
While there is no question that the band is phenomenal on every note of "Gigantic," one cannot overlook the fact that a large factor in the overall sound came from the work of now-legendary producer, Steve Albini. Known for rarely sticking with "just the studio sound," Albini worked his magic throughout Surfer Rosa and there are many completely unique sounds to be found. From the strange "whining" that jumps in over the bass of Kim Deal to the massive wall of sound that fills the choruses, it is this aggressive, yet soothing sound that defines both the band as well as Albini's skill. "Gigantic" constantly rears back and forth as the song progresses, and the power that the band hits with at the high points are truly unprecedented, and one can hear similar implementations of this technique on Albini's work with everyone from Nirvana to PJ Harvey. The dual guitars from Black Francis and Joey Santiago have just enough "crunch" and edge to push the song to an entirely new level, and one can hear the early incarnations of the "grunge" sound within the progressions. It is rare when a cymbal sound is so distinctive, yet each time David Lovering hits the crash, it has a tone like nothing else, and this is largely due to some unorthodox recording techniques. From recording outside of the actual studio to using microphones in bathrooms, the amazing echoes and other signature tones that fill "Gigantic," one can easily hear the song as an uncopyable masterpiece.
Along with the extraordinary musical performance, "Gigantic" stands out in the overall Pixies catalog as the only studio track which features Kim Deal on vocals. Furthermore, the song is the only track on Surfer Rosa that gives a writing credit to anyone other than Francis. This shared credit and Deal's taking of the lead vocals obviously gives "Gigantic" a feel like no other Pixies song, and yet the success of the song on every level led to her having a second song featured on the bands' next record. The song gives a bit of a preview to the writing and singing that Deal would make the core of the music of The Breeders, yet her performance here is clearly one of her finest. From the soft, flowing verses to the powerful choruses, Deal shows that she is one of the finest singers of her generation, and yet the entire time, there is definitely a tongue-in-cheek element to the lyrics. In reality, "Gigantic" is one of the most unsubtle, yet extremely risqué songs ever penned, as when one looks at the lyrics, it is clearly a tribute to a "more than average sized member." Truth be told, the song took inspiration from the 1986 film, Crimes Of The Heart, and Deal leaves very little to the imagination when she sings, "...lovely legs there are, what a big black mass with a hunk of love..." Understanding the "true" meaning behind the song certainly puts the title into a whole new light, and such double entendres and subtle provocation of "decency" defined The Pixies' attitude perfectly.
Fusing together brilliant, poppy hooks with aggressive, forceful music, there has simply never been another band quite like The Pixies. Churing out a paid of truly indispensable records on their first two tries, it is almost impossible to consider music progressing as it did without Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. Constantly striving to create new sounds and tones, The Pixies were a group that were innovators during one of the most stale music eras. Providing a fantastic preview of her work in her later bands, "Gigantic" is an unexpected pop powerhouse, as everything from the music to the vocals perfectly straddle the space between rock, punk, and the "indie" styles. Furthermore, few songs so brilliantly celebrate the idea of unbridled lust, and Kim Deal's vocal work on the track exemplifies the "fun" aspect of that emotion. Combining the amazing music and vocals with the mind and studio techniques of Steve Albini, and it is not hard to understand why Surfer Rosa remains such a superb record more than two decades after its initial release. Many of Deal's vocals were recorded in a bathroom, giving them the distinct echo, and the perfectly balanced mellow and aggressive sound within the music foreshadows Albini's work as one of the central figures of the "grunge" movement. Cited by countless bands to this day as one of the most important groups in history, few groups can compare to the overall sound and power of The Pixies, and few songs are as absolutely perfect as one finds in their 1988 classic, "Gigantic."