Updated: Mar 18
Provocative? We hope so! Jake Tiernan lays out his so solid reasoning behind picking Boston's finest foursome as the ideal band.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. There is no such thing as a perfect band, just like there is no such thing as a perfect song or a perfect television series (besides The Wire, obviously). This is because art is subjective. Every individual is entitled to their own interpretation of music and so much of this is rooted in personal reasoning and emotions. Although I often try to write about it, I’m not sure I could ever truly explain why I love a certain piece of music or a certain film. This is what makes art so wonderful and such a huge part of so many lives. It speaks to parts of us we don’t fully understand and connects with us in ways we can’t explain.
However, I do believe in one objective barometer of art: the achievement of a goal, or fulfilling of a function. Art is successful if it achieves its aim. Is the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly comedy, Step Brothers, the perfect movie? No, far from it. Does is achieve its aim of being a funny, dumb Hollywood comedy, designed to get laughs and not much else? Yes. Therefore, it is a success. Similarly, although there is no such thing as a perfect band, is there a band that fulfils its function better than any other? I believe the answer to that question is as follows.
So, what factors must be considered when analysing the functioning of a band? Well, first of all, a band must be a band. That is to say, it must be a true collective of musicians who all play an equally vital role in creating and performing music. You may not agree that Pixies wrote better music than The Jimi Hendrix Experience. However, it’s hard to argue that psychedelic pioneers weren’t heavily reliant on a particular member, without naming any names.
On the other hand, a case can be made for any member of Pixies as being the most important to their sound. You can’t disregard the drumming of David Lovering, or the guitar playing of Joey Santiago, Kim Deal’s bass and backing vocals, or the melody writing and absurd lyricism of Black Francis. Not to flog a dead horse, but I’m yet to hear an argument that Noel Redding’s bass playing is the experience that Hendrix and co. were really referring to.
That was a roundabout way of saying that Pixies are more than the sum of their parts. Each element lays the foundation for its counterparts, both supporting and supported, like a Penrose staircase. In isolation, Deal’s basslines may even be considered boring. Yet, juxtaposed with a full-blooded chorus like on Tame, they’re as impactful as 300 pound line-backer sacking a naked streaker.
Similarly, Santiago belongs to that rarest of categories: a lead guitar player who sacrifices his own spotlight to serve the song. His playing on Gouge Away is so minimal, yet so massive. For most of the verse, he does nothing more than let the natural hum of his amp add texture to the track, until coming in with two huge notes before the chorus. Doing a lot with a little. Who knew Pixies were using album names to instruct each other’s play styles.
I won’t drag on with examples but they can be found in nearly every Pixies track, from every member. Pixies are the team with no stars who won it all, if winning it all is being criminally under-appreciated in your time and being forced to tour relentlessly in your middle age in order to pay the bills, I guess. But you and I both know that the prize isn’t money or fame, it’s making timeless music (easier to say when it’s not your music).
Jonny Greenwood once said that Radiohead stopped using guitars because they ran out of ways to rip-off Pixies. Kurt Cobain said he wished he had started a Pixies cover band instead of Nirvana and David Bowie called them the most compelling music of the entire 80s. Whoever your favourite band is, there’s a good chance Pixies are their favourite band. Such a place in the alternative rock pantheon is the envy of musicians and music nerds everywhere.
They toe that magical line of being incredibly distinctive in their sound, despite respecting their influences and influencing everything that came after them. While the Loud-Quiet-Loud Pixies formula is recognisable in everything from Nirvana to Idles, you’re also never in doubt when you’re listening to the original product. Pixies are the bedrock upon which modern alternative music was built, showing no signs of succumbing to the pressure that comes with each new generation of melodic noise lovers.
Obviously, there’s no such thing as the perfect band, but it’s obviously Pixies.