How Trompe le Monde proved that like most meaningful things, Pixies were simply before their time

Portrait of Pixies, Frank Black; Kim Deal; David Lovering; Joey Santiago, Werchter Festival, Torhout, Belgium, 6th July 1991
(Image credit: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

Having perfected a devastating new brand of US alt.rock in the accelerated space of four years, Pixies appeared to be spent by the time of Trompe Le Monde. Bassist Kim Deal had already formed The Breeders during the band’s brief hiatus, while frontman/songwriter Black Francis was busy planning for a solo career.

Teaming up with regular producer Gil Norton for one final hurrah, the quartet of Francis, Deal, lead guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering nevertheless hurtled through Trompe Le Monde at customary pace. There were, however, key differences from the past. Less reliant on the polar dynamics that had defined previous landmarks Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, and certainly more energised than its immediate predecessor Bossanova, the album instead felt like a valedictory salute from a belligerent garage-metal band. Santiago gleefully called it “guitar hell”. 

Pixies hardly draw breath for the first 15 minutes. The urgent title track sets the tone, amplified by the sheer ferocity of Planet Of Sound. Driven by a wondrously malicious riff, it’s classic Pixies, with a screeching Francis adopting the persona of an alien searching for the source of intercepted sound from somewhere out in the cosmos. For all its sci-fi connotations, the central theme is a celebration of the unique powers of rock‘n’roll.

Francis’s lyrics teem with fragmented thoughts and impressions. Or, as he once insisted, “typical abstract baloney”. There are songs about extinction, dreaming birds, dead lakes full of shrimp, French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, and Mohicans on building sites. The churning Subbacultcha, a broken diary of a relationship, dates back to 1987. U-Mass is rooted in the past too, recycling a riff from Francis and Santiago’s time together at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where they first met. Its contemptuous lyrics about student life – culminating in Francis barking out ‘It’s educational!’ – go some way to explaining why he dropped out.

As the band ascend through songs like Alec Eiffel, The Sad Punk and the Debaser-ish U-Mass, they hit a sharp peak with a cover of Jesus And Mary Chain’s Head On. Shorn of the original’s sulkily affected cool, Pixies go for the immediate approach that its title demands, riding a great punkabilly groove.

The second half of Trompe Le Monde dials down the volume (only a notch, mind) in favour of something more jaggedly melodic. With guest keyboard player Eric Drew Feldman allowed more wiggle room, it’s a pointer to the tonal feel of Francis’s post-Pixies work. By the time the band had officially split in early 1993, Francis had already recorded his solo debut, co-produced with Feldman.

The scheduling of Trompe Le Monde’s release, a day before that of Nirvana’s Nevermind, was entirely fitting, given Pixies’ influence on those that followed. While Radiohead, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains and PJ Harvey would build on their sonic blueprint, it was Nirvana who most readily assimilated the constituent parts into commercial gold. Like most meaningful things, Pixies were simply before their time. “We were a quirky band,” Francis told Classic Rock in 2009. “And the nineties hadn’t really happened yet, where so-called ‘alternative bands’ were selling millions of records.” 

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.