Pixies: Bossanova - a classic of rock futurism brought back from the past

Pixies' classic third album Bossanova, now available in delicious red vinyl to celebrate its 30th anniversary

Pixies - Bossanova
(Image: © 4AD)

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Having cast himself as the unhinged oracle of grisly mythical proto-grunge on Surfer Rosa (’88) and Doolittle (’89), Pixies’ Black Francis rematerialised in 1990 as noir rock’s Man From Planet X, his slasher-flick aesthetic given a sci-fi B-movie twist. 

For third album Bossanova (reissued in red vinyl for its thirtieth anniversary), Joey Santiago’s guitars took on a rocket- ship gleam (see Rock Music), Dave Lovering’s drums a propulsive blast (ditto), and Francis’s breathless alt.pop a gruesome fascination with loving the alien. 

Key to Bossanova’s science-fiction tone is The Happening, a tribute to Vegas DJ Billy Goodman’s very own War Of The Worlds prank in the 1950s. Goodman recorded a novelty single called Flying Saucer, purporting to be an on-the-spot news report from the first meeting of man and extraterrestrial, and Francis’s song follows a UFO nut (like Francis at the time) hearing the track on his car radio and racing off to Vegas to welcome his new alien overlords. 

Elsewhere, the theremin wails of Velouria suggest intergalactic communication, but the album’s gnarled pop centrepiece actually concerns Francis falling in love with a furry/smooth woman from Lemuria, an ancient land sunk beneath the Pacific. Pixies weren’t yet as away with the spacemen as they’d get on 1991’s Trompe Le Monde, where they’d visit Martian volcanos and recreate Roswell, but Francis clearly saw their future in futurism.

Bossanova seemed to time-warp Pixies far ahead of a slacker-rock pack still struggling to catch up with Doolittle. As US rock grew ever more bedraggled, Pixies and producer Gil Norton coated their Talking Heads homage Dig For Fire, Stormy Weather and Allison (dedicated to jazz pianist Mose Allison) in slick titanium shells, and softened the murky menace of The Happening, Hang Wire and Is She Weird? with moments of astral surf sweetness in Ana and Havalina

By encasing Pixies’ grime, melody and precision violence in a sleeker modernist production, tracks like All Over The World actually sketched out the blueprint for Nevermind sharper than Kurt favourite Surfer Rosa ever had, and also set them light years apart from their immediate grunge descendants. Having left behind their early albums as mysterious monoliths marking their presence here, Bossanova beamed Pixies to their very own planet of sound.

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle.