Come On Pilgrim is greatness obscured by length. Surfer Rosa remains one of the most unique albums in indie rock history. Doolittle remains one of the best albums in indie rock history. Bossanova is a damned good album, and, at the very least, carries both Pixies’ most expansive song and most beautiful song. Trompe le monde – Pixies’ last album because fuck Indie Cindy‘s existence – is a Frank Blank solo album masquerading as a Pixies album; make of that what you will. That being said, Frank Black’s solo albums typical get worse and worse as you move forward chronologically (a slight exception: I rank his eponymous debut higher than I do everybody else’s favorite, Teenager of the Year), so at this point in time, that statement is more of a compliment than it is an insult. But it’s meant to be insulting all the same, because Trompe le monde is the most overrated album in the Pixies discography, probably because it’s easier to say that “the Pixies had a perfect discography” than it is “the Pixies had an almost perfect discography.”
Problem #1: Kim Deal, whose modest voice provided a lot of contrast to Frank Black’s screaming on every proceeding Pixies album, sings on this album as much as I do. Exaggerated truth, but truth all the same.
Problem #2: as Pitchfork’s Mike Powell writes, “Late Pixies songs are triumphs of private epiphany: Small, diamond-bright moments that flash in someone’s eyes and then disappear forever”; it’s around this point in time that Frank Black stopped writing songs and wrote snatches of songs instead: only three of these fifteen songs breach the 3-minute mark. And while that only helped in forging Surfer Rosa’s identity, the “songs” on Trompe le monde don’t have the melody of “Broken Face” or “Tony’s Theme” or “Cactus”, because Frank Black has already cashed in all his good ones. Does anyone wake up and think to themselves, “I’m going to listen to ‘Palace of the Brine’ right now while I go through my morning routine?” Didn’t think so.
Problem #3: there’s less dynamic shifts throughout Trompe le monde that the Pixies had banked on earlier, which, in combination with the preceding problem, makes all of it a blur.
Problem #4: Frank Black has lost himself in his science fiction paraphilia, never to return to Earth. To be clear, his lyrics were always abstract, but even then, you could still attribute them to your own situation. No longer. “Jeffrey with one F, Jefrey / Now it occurred to me as he drove away / D = R times T” comprise an actual stanza in “Space (I Believe In),” etc.
The details I enjoy: Lovering’s drumrolls and the guitar cascades in the climax of “Trompe le monde”; the second half of “Alec Eiffel,” which rivals “The Happening” in how it’s equal parts weirdness and melody; “U-Mass,” which could’ve been on Doolittle without sounding out of place; the choruses of “Distance Equals Rate Times Time,” bolstered by Kim Deal, though the rest of the song is a write-off; and “Motorway to Roswell,” where Frank Black sounds actually saddened (or least melodic) about what’s happened to the alien (“How could this so great / Turn so shitty / He ended up in army crates / And photographs in files”), and the album clearly should’ve ended with the song’s pre-Radiohead-esque ending instead of “The Navajo Know.”
Elsewhere, there’s no reason why “Space (I Believe In)” should have been the album’s second longest song except that it features tablas (which Frank Black makes a big deal out of); “We needed something to move and fill up the space” indeed, and some of the shorter songs are either loud enough (“Planet of Sound”) or groovy enough (“Lovely Day”) that I don’t mind. I actually don’t mind any of it, but it’s the Pixies we’re talking about, here; complacency isn’t their thing.