Pixies – Bossanova (1990)

frontcover1Bossanova is the third studio album by the American rock band Pixies. It was released in August 13, 1990 on the English independent record label 4AD in the United Kingdom and by Elektra Records in the United States. All of Bossanova’s original material was written by the band’s frontman Black Francis; this was a first for a Pixies album, but he has written all of their songs since. The album’s sound, inspired by surf rock and space rock, complements its lyrical focus on outer space, which references subjects such as aliens and unidentified flying objects.

Because of 4AD’s independent status, major label Elektra Records handled distribution in the United States; Bossanova reached number 70 on the Billboard 200. The album peaked at number three in the UK Albums Chart. Two singles were released from Bossanova, “Velouria” and “Dig for Fire”; both charted on the US Modern Rock Tracks chart, at #4 and #11, respectively.

After Pixies finished touring obligations for their second album Doolittle (1989) in January 1990, band members Black Francis, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering moved from Boston to Los Angeles. Bassist Kim Deal meanwhile stayed in the UK to record the first Breeders album during January with producer Steve Albini. Deal ultimately decided to travel out to Los Angeles with the rest of the group. Lovering stated that he, Santiago, and Black Francis moved to Los Angeles because that’s where they intended to record. The three band members lived in the Oakwood apartments, along with comic Garrett Morris and members of the band White Lion. Producer Gil Norton also moved into the apartment complex.

Pixies started recording material for Bossanova at Cherokee Studios in February 1990, where the sessions ran into problems. Norton said that nothing could be recorded after six P.M. because the recording desk would pick up pirate radio stations. Norton decided to illustrationwork at overdubs somewhere else for a few days until the problem was corrected, but when he returned to Cherokee, he found that any time something was plugged into a guitar amplifier it would generate “this incredible hum”. Norton refused to tell 4AD owner Ivo Watts-Russell about the problem until he felt he could address the problems. One day while visiting a bar, Norton and Santiago met producer Rick Rubin, whom they informed of their situation. Rubin had his secretary find another studio for the group, and the band continued recording at Master Control.

One album song, “Blown Away”, had been written in Spain in early June 1989 while on tour. The song was recorded at Hansa Tonstudio after their 19 June 1989 Berlin gig with producer Gil Norton who was specially flown in for the one-song session.

In contrast to previous records, many songs were written in the studio and few demo recordings were created. Santiago said that the band only practiced for a two-week period, in contrast to previous practice in Boston where the group rehearsed constantly. Black Francis noted, “So I was writing [lyrics] on napkins five minutes before I sang. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. That’s just the nature of that songwriting.” (by wikipedia)

When Bossanova arrived in 1990, it reflected the exhaustion the Pixies felt after Doolittle’s enormous success: For the first time, the band seems to be running out of ideas. Tellingly, Kim Deal contributes no songs, having formed the Breeders to give her work an outlet; that summer, their debut Pod won a warmer response than Bossanova received. Arguably the Pixies’ weakest album — though Francis has said it’s his favorite — most of it finds the band in fine form. Gil Norton’s spacious, reverb-heavy production makes the Pixies sound like a Martian bar band, which fits the cover of the Surftones’ “Cecilia Ann” and the glorious, shimmering closer “Havalina” perfectly. On the theremin-driven “Velouria,” science fiction imagery displaces Francis’ penchant for fetishistic lyrics; next to the token kinky song “Down to the Well”‘s tired sound, it’s a refreshing change.

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The similarly cryptic “All Over the World” and alien abduction tale “The Happening” add to the sci-fi feel. Quirky pop songs like “Allison,” a tribute to jazz cool-cat Mose Allison, and “Dig for Fire,” Francis’ self-professed Talking Heads homage, heighten Bossanova’s playful, slightly off-kilter vibe, but rockers like “Hang Wire” and “Blown Away,” fall flat. However, “Rock Music” is one of the group’s most fiery outbursts, and “Is She Weird”‘s chugging grind and sexy, funny lyrics make it a classic Pixies song. The band was so consistently amazing on their previous albums that when they released a slightly weaker one, critics and fans alike judged them too harshly. But on Bossanova’s strongest moments, the Pixies explored their softer side and found different uses for their extreme dynamics. Like a straight-A student who suddenly receives a B+, Bossanova might have been a disappointment initially, but its (small) failings emphasize the strengths of the rest of the Pixies’ work. (by Heather Phares)

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Personnel:
Kim Deal (bass, vocals)
Black Francis (vocals, guitar)
David Lovering (drums)
Joey Santiago (guitar)
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Robert F. Brunner (theremin on 03. + 05.)

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Tracklist:
01. Cecilia Ann (Hoffman/Horton) 2.05
02. Rock Music (Francis) 1.52
03. Velouria (Francis)– 3:40
04. Allison (Francis) – 1:17
05. Is She Weird (Francis) – 3:01
06. Ana (Francis) – 2:09
07. All Over The World (Francis) 5.27
08. Dig For Fire (Francis) 3.02
09. Down To The Well (Francis) 2.29
10. The Happening (Francis) 4.19
11. Blown Away (Francis) 2.20
12. Hang Wire (Francis) 2.01
13. Stormy Weather (Francis) 3.26
14. Havalina (Francis) 2.33

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