Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ode to Surfer Rosa

It all started with that TV commercial for the Apple iPhone 5s. "Wow," I told Colleen, "they're using a Pixies song!" We both dug the way "Gigantic" was played, with various bits and pieces of the song coming slowly together just like in the original with an adorable Elisha Cuthbert look-alike performing an admirable Kim Deal impersonation.

"Can you play the original for me?" Colleen asked after we'd seen the commercial a half dozen times, and I immediately headed to the listening room to pull out my CD version of Surfer Rosa. I didn't even think twice about it--I have all Pixies albums and even most of the numerous EPs and other rarities along the way. Of course I have their first album, Colleen. It's knockin' on my Top Ten of all time. But I couldn't find it. I then checked my LPs because I once reviewed the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs version of Surfer Rosa for TONEAudio, but I was pretty sure I had to give that back although it pissed me off to do so. Pixies are my favorite band--couldn't you just let me have it in lieu of pay? Maybe, via some sort of miracle, I still had it. But I didn't.

I couldn't find Surfer Rosa anywhere. I knew I had it on CD--in fact, I had two versions including that reissue that's shoehorned with the EP C'mon Pilgrim. So I found myself, for the first time in probably 20 years, with a hole in my Pixies collection. Not just any hole, but the debut album, the one I declared a true challenger for the title of My Favorite Pixies Album after I did the MFSL review. That's no small feat considering that Doolittle, which I own in three different versions (regular CD, regular LP and Mobile Fidelity LP), is still probably my favorite rock album of all time. (I say probably because it seems kinda strange to still say that after more than 25 years. But I can't think of a possible replacement.)

So I bought the LP directly off of the MFSL website, using the money I'd reserved for my FIM purchase of the month. (I bought a new FIM CD anyway, so there.) I didn't even think twice about it--there was no way that I could live another day knowing it was missing from my collection. It reinforced my recent commitment to spend more time on vinyl after spending the last year or so praising the latest hi-rez digital formats. I've been sticking to this commitment--I bought the new Beck album on vinyl (which I reviewed here), and last night I bought the new Black Keys album, Turn Blue, on LP. Now I need to buy the remaining two Pixies albums that have been remastered by MFSL, Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde.

You can probably look up my old TONEAudio review--it was in 2008 or so. I remember listening to the MFSL version of Surfer Rosa and marveling at the fact that it no longer sounded like a sloppy, enthusiastic, minimalist recording of a classic post-punk album. The guys at MFSL really brought out the depth and the texture of the recording and reduced just enough grunge to make it sound like it came from totally different recording sessions. That still holds true. I'm not as convinced that it approaches the sheer vision and attitude of Doolittle, so I'll retract my previous hyperbole. But it's easily the second greatest Pixies album ever, which is something.

Listening to this MFSL version, however, I was instantly reminded of a comment in my review--that Kim Deal had such a big role on this album, "Gigantic" notwithstanding. I really hope she, in particular, received a big check from Apple.

I'll be honest--not every MFSL remaster is a champ. Some seem like the output levels are way too low and you really have to crank up the volume to get it to sound right. Some MFSL remasters are simply ordinary, mostly because the originals sounded abysmal and the MFSL guys made the recording merely listenable (a comment I used to reserve for old DCC releases). These are still noble efforts, but I'd rather hear something more absolute. But these two Pixies remasters are so superb that I feel remiss by not having all four at this point in time. But oh, I will.

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