Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Trompe Le Monde’ by Pixies.
That sound. Hearing Joey Santiago etch out those opening, prowling guitar notes of Trompe Le Monde was like hearing a sound from another planet; there isn’t an album intro that has defined what was about to follow so effectively before or since. Pixies fifth album proved to be their swansong, but what a gouging denouement (recent EP’s from the band’s latest incarnation, minus Kim Deal, seem designed to preserve their legacy, as if Pixies as they now stand know that releasing a new Long Player would tarnish the mythical ‘perfect run’ that many aspire to but few achieve). ‘Trompe Le Monde’ is probably the heaviest record the band made, certainly leaning more in the direction of heavy metal than those initial vicious outpourings of ‘Come On, Pilgrim’ and ‘Surfer Rosa’.
Pixies run of albums began in 1987, with a release every year up until ‘Trompe le Monde’ in ’91. Where the previous year’s ‘Bossanova’ was more or less straight-ahead rock by the band’s standards, ‘Trompe Le Monde’ was an even more jarring combination of the calm waters and howling tempests they were famed for. Its dense clamour and erratic flow still stands in stark contrast to the surfier leanings of its predecessor. ‘Bossanova’ was the last Pixies album where they could properly be called a group (‘Trompe Le Monde’s title translates as ‘Fool The Word’. Take from that what you will); ‘Trompe Le Monde’, conversely, has been considered the album that saw Frank Black settle into the role of sole contributor in advance of his solo career, and with Black and bassist Kim Deal on less than good terms, the record was their final death throe. It has long been viewed as the phasing out of Deal; on this album, for the first time in their recording career, her presence is barely felt, save maybe for her dominating backing vocals on Subbacultcha (hear her sticking it to Black on that last echoing word of “she was all dressed up in black”).
If Black’s charge was intended to be absolute, in songwriting and direction, then his intention fell down – this album and its clanging metallic sounds belong to Joey Santiago and David Lovering. Santiago’s guitar is the serrated buzzsaw that gnaws at the edges of Black’s poppier asides and tears asunder those grungier cuts. Is there anything in Pixies catalogue as heavy as Planet Of Sound? Santiago and Black trade off to the song’s climax, Lovering strains the snare skins to breaking point and…fuck…the album still hasn’t even been on four minutes. Like ‘Bossanova’ before it, Black takes the Buddy Holly approach, with most songs barely encroaching on the three-minute threshold. If Black was Buddy Holly, then that made Lovering a hopped-up Jerry Allison – all-fills, all-frills and with the beaten wreckage of a drum kit at his feet by the time this recording session ended.
From the bloodied dress of Cactus to that like a “field full o’ poppy” in Beautiful Day; from boxcar to schooner, that latter Panamanian vessel of Subbacultcha equally as evocative as Here Comes Your Man’s opening salvo; from swimming in the Caribbean to the skyline of Olympus Mons, and those sliced up eyeballs on the record’s sleeve – connected snatched images that stand alone, meaning everything and nothing, threads that connect ‘Trompe Le Monde’ to Pixies themes past. Here too, ‘Bossanova’s earlier outer space fixations came to their poignant apotheosis on Motorway To Roswell, Black’s tale of an extra-terrestrial far from home, “On a holiday/ For many miles/ Looking for a place to stay” who ultimately “Ended up in army crates/ And photographs in files”
Is it their best album? Probably not. That honour goes to ‘Surfer Rosa’…maybe ‘Doolittle’. It is, though, the one that begs revisiting more often than any other – the one that still excites; from that neck-bristling opening riff from Santiago’s guitar, through their giddy routing of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Head On, to the final thud of Lovering’s kit fading into the ether on The Navajo Know. ‘Trompe Le Monde’ may have signalled the death of the band, yet it’s still the freshest sounding album in their arsenal…go, little record, go!
Did you enjoy this weeks edition of Golden Vault? Get involved, comment below and join us next week in the Golden Vault where we’ll be discussing ‘Setting Sons’ by The Jam.