. issue XI : vii .

by barathron

. artist : the pixies .
. album : trompe le monde .
. year : 1991 .
. label : elektra / 4ad .
. grade : a .


Trompe le Monde sticks out like a pleasantly diseased, throbbing thumb in the Pixies discography. It’s an album that is completely different from every Pixies album before it, yet it is definitely part of the same deformed hand. Fans deride it as more of an over-cooked Black Francis solo finger than an old-fashioned, ramshackle Pixies one. But even as an injured, dying appendage, it’s an enjoyable and important part of the hand as a whole.

For the most part, Trompe le Monde successfully mixes their rabid early sound with touches of grunge and blinding studio polish. There is no huge tent-pole single, effectively destroying the chance for casual listeners. The lyrics are mostly top notch. The bass, and Kim Deal, are buried, save for a few moments. Most songs contain endless houses of mirrors with smoke machine vocal effects and ufo-sighting subtleties. This is the epicenter of its lone miscalculation but sometimes strength: making everything sound like the work of countless studio hours, rather than raw energy and clever innovation.

Beginning with the surprisingly technical title track, the album starts on the right webbed foot. Francis enters, simple and stoned, and instantly hits multi-tracked paydirt. Fast guitar arpeggios and sudden time signature changes convey a slight inspiration from the least likely of Pixies influences: prog and hair metal. The song doesn’t quite sound like the rest of the album, but it shows off in under two polished minutes what the listener is in store for: twists and turns, sloppy yet thrilling dynamics, and a detached astronaut delivery.

The killer riff-based “Planet of Sound” boasts an eerie atmosphere and a phased-out Francis topping his each successive yell-yowl. “Alec Eiffel,” an excellent slice of futuristic aggression starts strong, then dates itself in its outro with a piercing keyboard melody that overwhelms — Kim Deal should have soothed with the same part. “The Sad Punk” seems to want to you to hate it at first, with atonal chords and changing tempo meshing with the words “I smell so bad.” Then it builds and ends up being a little touching. “Head On” and “U Mass” stick with you instantly because of their colorful giddiness and arena-sized choruses.

The album gets pretty varied throughout its length. “Palace of the Brine” is a pleasant “Octopus’s Garden” style toss off, and it’s a little too slight and goofy as a result. Full of zero-gravity yearning, “Letter to Memphis” doesn’t try to overreach or tack on anything extraneous. The dance-punk of “Subbacultcha” is a snarky joke on early 90’s hipsters, mocking the fashion and attitude of one of their core fanbases: “I was looking handsome, she was looking like an erotic vulture. I was all dressed in black, she was all dressed in black.”

The last few songs could have used a little shuffling. “Lovely Day” should have come earlier, where the fast tempo and carnival barker bridge would have been less tiresome. The poorly chosen final song, “The Navajo Know,” is a little too unfinished to be the last thing the original Pixies ever committed to tape. The piano-accented “Motorway to Roswell” would have been the perfect ending: a huge build to a grandiose finish line of “I started driving on the motorway” before the song’s protagonist is abducted into the clouds.

The band seemed to be trying it’s hardest to shed a lot of their audience. Heavy handed punk-metal had replaced a lot of the acoustic guitar interplay and surf-gaze. What I can only call new-wave-grunge-funk happens in a few songs. Borderline-acceptable synthesizers fill in blanks where Kim Deal would have oohed or aahed on previous albums. However, all of this adds to Trompe Le Monde’s infectious strangeness, and its range, which has been constantly cultivated by bands that sprung up since its release. Les Savy Fav and their ilk have based their entire approach on songs like the shouty “Space (I Believe in)” and “Distance Equals Rate Times Time.” There are hints of embryonic James Murphy-isms in “Subbacultcha.” The overall alt-heaviness of the guitars was used by nearly every seventh-generation grunge hack on Clear Channel radio for the next decade. These groups probably heard the Pixies’ earlier albums as well, but their final statement cannot be underestimated in its influence.

The unique Trompe Le Monde was a misunderstood swan song for the Pixies. Kim Deal didn’t have as much of a say, and it was the sound of a band striving for something new, harsher, and excitable. Had they survived in their original incarnation, it would have been interesting to see where this could have led. Unfortunately, the Pixies’ new release (EP-1) serves as an underwhelming continuation of this sound, but with much less personality. However, EP-1 isn’t the work of the same hivemind or time period, and it would have been nice if Deal and Francis could have seen one more album through.

A well-stocked prize bag from an intergalactic raffle, Trompe Le Monde serves up bittersweet fireworks and remains a classic, integral part of the Pixies’ output.

by Ryan Myers