‘Gouge Away’ by Pixies
From the album Doolittle (1989)
Doing (even more) digging into Steve Albini for last week’s article took me back to Pixies, a band I drop in and out of, become obsessed with, or leave alone for long periods of time, very regularly. Albini famously said about the band that they ‘at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rock.’ Albini has since apologised for this remark, and even called Surfer Rosa ‘ok’, but this article isn’t about Steve Albini, it’s about Pixies so I’ll get on with that (but I’m definitely going to come back to Steve).
I chose ‘Gouge Away’ this week as it is by far and away my favourite Pixies song, employing their classic conceit of loud-soft-loud-soft and off-kilter lyrical themes, on this occasion a musical retelling of the story of Samson and his death. Black Francis’ unmistakable vocals create a lot of the atmosphere in the song, from the half-whisper of ‘gouge away, you can gouge away’ in the verse to the final chorus near-scream of ‘I break the walls, and kill us all’ (the way he annunciates ‘walls’ is one of my favourite things on record, ever, full stop.) Kim Deal’s bass is, as ever, reliable and not at all flashy, whilst Joey Santiago’s distorted guitar licks before the choruses again add to the menacing atmosphere of the song.
Gil Norton’s ‘clean’ production of Doolittle stands in sharp contrast to Albini’s work on Surfer Rosa. It allows for the contrasts between the loud and the quiet to be more clearly defined, but one cannot help but wonder what the track (and album) would be like with the Albini treatment. Would the album rank higher in countless ‘Best Albums Ever’ list? Would it even feature at all? There’s another interesting interplay in the Albini-Pixies relationship; he didn’t produce another Pixies album after Surfer Rosa, yet he worked with Kim Deal on three out of four of The Breeders’ albums, including the seminal Pod. Black Francis probably doesn’t like him, to be fair.