Being picked up by a major la-bel apparently hasn’t brought any peace to Pixies singer-songwriter Black Francis. The same nightmares that inhabited the band’s two brilliant independent LPs, Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, are in evidence again on Doolittle. That’s disturbing for Black Francis but great for the rest of us. A quick look at the song titles — “Debaser,” “Gouge Away,” “Wave of Mutilation,” “Dead,” “I Bleed” — is all it takes to realize that Doolittle is going to be another frightening, compelling whirlwind from this Boston quartet.
Which isn’t to say that Doolittle is Surfer Rosa remade. Rosa was a guitar-saturated frenzy. On Doolittle, producer Gil Norton showcases the Pixies at their most diverse — distilling the band’s sound and relying heavily on the strong rhythm section of bassist Kim Deal and drummer David Lovering. The pace of the songs ranges from the breakneck speed of “Crackity Jones” to the more relaxed, melodic pop of “Here Comes Your Man.” Even the imagery is diverse. On “Hey,” Francis sings, “Must be a devil between us/Or whores in my head,” while on “La La Love You,” Lovering takes over vocal duty, tongue firmly in cheek, to sing, “All I’m saying pretty baby/La la love you, don’t mean maybe.”
The emphasis on more textured production has in no way taken away from the band’s intensity. Francis is at all times in command of the album, quietly stringing us along before turning on us and screaming for attention. It’s about time everyone started taking notice.