Firstly, the album cover tells you all that you need to know about this album. It’s a campy 80s science fiction movie where all the main characters are white and the aliens (who are not) are the bad guys (and indeed, lyrically, most of these songs are based on Frank Black’s favorite genre). It’s glossier (Gil Norton, same producer as Doolittle, produces it) and it’s bigger (though Frank Black screams a lot less than its predecessor, the whole affair sounds … a lot louder; or maybe it’s just meant to be played louder, which I’ve been doing) than anything else on the Pixies catalogue. The most major record sounding record that wasn’t on a major record there ever was.
On its blurb for its entry on the best 100 albums of that decade, Rolling Stone offered that “Bossanova was the Pixies’ most straight-ahead rock album” … nonsense. You have a spaghetti Western theme set in space in “Cecilia Ann” (that open the album, no less) and reminders that Pixies belong to the 4AD label by doing dream pop better than 90% of the bands on the 4AD label in “Ana” and “Havalina” (that closes the album, no less). The skitter-y guitar that drives the verses of “Dig For Fire” is the closest they’ve ever come to funk (and that song is particularly interesting because all the instruments during the verses sound completely disconnected from one another, like they were piecemealed from different songs). “All Over the World” is one of their most ambitious compositions: listen to the first minute and then skip to the last minute and wonder how you got there (this is something you can’t do for any of the songs off Surfer Rosa and Doolittle); the radio transmissions over the guitar lines at the 3:00 mark-onwards are particularly effective, like a ship stranded in the middle of nowhere asking for help but too distant to ever get any. If these songs feel like they’re throwaways because the hooks are dumber than they were on preceding albums (ie. “Allison,” “Hang Wire,” “Stormy Weather”), ignore Frank Black and listen to Joey Santiago. And the people who want more Doolittle do get it: two full minutes of unhindered and unhinged Frank Black to make up for the lack thereof on the opener in “Rock Music” (and like his vocals on “Debaser” or “Tame,” catchy as ever) to the pop/rock of “Velouria” and “Is She Weird,” this time fed through controlled crescendos leading up to “MY VELOURIA” or “And her head has no room!” over nothing else but David Lovering’s pounding drums.
My favorite moment on the album is the five seconds of peace on “Havalina” from 1:24-29 after the stormy weather, ending with Frank Black singing “Among the trees” signalling the instruments to come back in. My favorite song on the album is “The Happening” because the verses and choruses display Frank Black and Kim Deal at their best, respectively, and Joey Santiago either blasting out noise or a high-pitched melody to compliment either vocalist. Great riff employed to transition between the two points, and like the spoken word bit at the end as Frank Black joins Kim Deal – you get the sense like you’re actually driving on the road; their most psychedelic song since “Where Is My Mind???” People think this is a disappointment because it’s not as great as Surfer Rosa or Doolittle (but it’s still great) and because Kim Deal has a noticeably diminished role in terms of backing vocals (the ones on “Velouria” and “Allison” feel like they’re just there). But most of all, because they don’t expect a Pixies album to take them anywhere, but this one does.