Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alt Rock SmackDown! The Pixies Vs. Nirvana

Kurt Cobain always wore his influences on his sleeve, and one of the most famous bands that he loved was The Pixies. In fact, Cobain has stated that Smells Like Teen Spirit was his attempt at making a Pixies song, and we all know how well that worked out for him. As a huge fan of both bands, I’m going to pit them against each other for no other reason than to jerk off over music I love. I’m just going to focus on their studio albums, since both released four albums each and it makes it easier to compare the two. While Incesticide is a b-side and outtakes collection and should therefore be pitted against The Pixies Complete “B” Sides album, I’m still going to treat it like a normal album, since it did spawn at least one big MTV hit, which is a pretty rare thing for an album of this type to do, and because it keeps the 4x4 format that I wanted. Sadly, this also means skipping The Pixies’ ep Come on Pilgrim, but it’ll have to do.

Surfer Rose vs. Bleach

As a fan of neat coincidences, both albums (if you count the CD issue of Bleach) have 13 songs each. Anyhow, aside from how great Nirvana’s debut is, Surfer Rose is an undeniable classic. It’s got some of The Pixies’ most famous songs (Where Is My Mind? Gigantic, Vamos, River Euphrates), and the entire album is what I like to call “a fun-filled romp.” What I particularly like is the little snippets of conversation and false starts included. It makes the album seem almost like The Beach Boys Party! Bleach is a really good album, but is a darker affair altogether. The most famous song from Bleach is About a Girl, though my favorites would be their first single Love Buzz and Floyd the Barber. While Surfer Rosa is a fun album, Bleach is full of metal-inspired sludge rock. And while I love their brand of sludge rock, there’s no fucking way it’s a better album. Plus The Pixies were just a stronger band all around, and their debut routinely beats the shit out of the best offerings by many other bands. And if I add Come on Pilgrim to the CD version like the Brits do, it’s no contest.

Advantage: The Pixies

Doolittle vs. Nevermind

Ah fuck. Once I started devising how I was going to pit these albums against each other, I knew that this would be the hardest one to do. While Doolittle isn’t my favorite Pixies album, it has by far the largest number of classic songs on it. In fact, if I just eliminate I Bleed from the line up, it has six of the best Pixies songs in a row. Thankfully, aside from Gouge Away, the album gets much weaker after those songs. La La Love You is perhaps the worst song The Pixies ever recorded, Silver and Hey are boring shit, and Crackety Jones just seems like Pixies-lite. Meanwhile, Nevermind has only one boring track; the album closer Something in the Way. If you remove that song, every single song on Nevermind is brilliant. That’s fucking unheard of. Yes, the second half of the album is just as great as the first half, even though the album is front-loaded with all the hits. I’ve particularly loved Drain You and On a Plain, but there you go. With one exception, Nevermind is a perfect album.

Advantage: Nirvana

Bossanova vs. Incesticide

I have never, ever liked Bossanova, and as someone who passionately loves The Pixies, believe me, I’ve tried. The song has only a couple songs that rock my ass off: the opening instrumental Cecilia Ann and the far too brief Allison. I like Velouria as well, and in the context of the rest of the album, it sounds like a classic. Rock Music sounds like one of those Gwar songs where Beefcake the Mighty has lead vocals. Shit like Dig for Fire and All Over The World just aren’t that great, and the majority of the album never rises above “meh” levels, even if Havalina is kinda pretty. Incesticide is a really interesting, since it’s got both sludgy Nirvana (Aero Zeppelin) and poppy Nirvana (Been a Son), as well as some interesting covers (TWO Vaselines songs! And a Devo cover!) The album as a whole is entertaining, because there’s also songs where it seems like the band is just fucking around. Seriously, what the hell is up with Beeswax? It also has a surprising number of classics for a b-sides/outtakes album, such as Sliver, Been a Son, and Aneurysm. Therefore, this was an easy choice for me, since I get more joy listening to Incesticide than Bossanova.

Advantage: Nirvana

Trompe le Monde vs. In Utero

Oh Trompe le Monde. Why do music critics hate you so much? This was the CD that made me a Pixies fan, so it holds a special spot in my heart. It’s also my favorite album of theirs, since I really enjoy the sound they were going for on it, and the opening track (Trompe Le Monde) is an amazing way to kick off the album. Add to that Planet of Sound, Alec Eiffel, an amazing cover of Head On, U-Mass, Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons, and Lovely Day, which sounds like they stole the guitar from Generation X’s Dancing With Myself and made a Pixies song with it, and you have one of the best “last albums” of all time. In Utero is more iffy. The only songs that I love from this album are Serve the Servants, Scentless Apprentice, Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, All Apologies, and maybe Milk It. Heart-Shaped Box was by far their worst hit, since the whole thing just sounds like a stretched-out intro. Dumb seemed like Polly all over again, just not as good, and Rape Me is a song so stupid that I want to yank Kurt out of his grave and punch him in the face for writing it. So we have my favorite Pixies album against the worst Nirvana album. I think you know where this is going.

Advantage: The Pixies

For this smackdown it doesn’t appear that there’s a winner, since they’re both going two for two. When I compare their worst albums (Bossanova vs. In Utero), Nirvana comes out ahead. This is also the case when I compare their best albums (Trompe le Monde vs. Nevermind). However, the first two Pixies albums are cumulatively better (just barely) than the first two Nirvana albums, and the same goes for their last two albums. If you discard the album format entirely and just pit the songs against each other, then I think that The Pixies were a much stronger band throughout their short run. In fact, when I added my favorites songs of each band to a playlist, Nirvana had 27 and The Pixies had 31. So by a measly four songs, we have a winner.

The Winner: The Pixies

Tune in next time for Jangle Pop SmachDown: REM vs. The Smiths!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Failure Walk With Me: How I Learned to Love and Hate Twin Peaks

Last night I finally finished watching Twin Peaks, and I have to say that the entire experience was both fantastic and depressing. I didn’t watch the show when it first aired (and since I was 10 at the time, I probably wouldn’t have liked it), and when I became a huge fan of David Lynch in my teens, the show wasn’t readily available for me to watch. However, even though I never saw it in it’s initial run, I was always aware of what it was. Without seeing an episode, I knew that it was a murder-mystery about the death of some teenager named Laura Palmer, that it took place in a small town, that “damn fine pie” and “damn fine coffee” were somehow the catch phrases of the show, that there was someone named The Log Lady in it, and that it was weird. That’s all I knew and cared to know about the show when it first came on. Years later during my Lynch phase, I rented the VHS of his follow-up series “On The Air,” which I was only able to finish one episode of before turning the damn thing off. All that I remember from that show was a floating pair of scissors and Hatchet-Face from Cry Baby being in the cast. Since that show was a product of the Frost/Lynch team that did Twin Peaks, I can’t say that I had much of a desire to seek out the show.

I eventually found a VHS of the pilot on sale at some store and decided to give it a go. Unless pretty much everyone who loves the show, the pilot did nothing for me. It was the international pilot, by the way, which ended with Bob yelling some shit, and the dwarf dancing in the red room. What bugged me the most about the pilot was how shitty the acting was with most of the cast, the worst offender being Dana Ashbrook as Bobby. That, and the ending just pissed me off. I never bothered watching that tape again, and once again my potential interest in the show died off.

I’ve recently become a fan of TV again, and I love the idea of long story arcs. So I figured I would give the show a chance, with my more mature and forgiving tastes accepting the limits of what can and can’t be done on a TV show. I watched the original TV pilot, and my complaints still stood. A lot of the acting was shitty, and some of the characters, such as Andy and Audrey, were just flat-out annoying. However, I wanted to keep watching, because I heard that it was supposed to be great. When I watched the next two episodes, I was hooked. I don’t know if the following two episodes were “better” than the pilot, or if I just knew what to expect, but everything started to click for me. The second episode was such a punch that I still can’t believe this show was such a hit (for a time). The disgusting sleaziness of One-Eyed Jacks and the famous ending with the red room and dancing dwarf convinced me that I was watching something special, an anomaly in TV that may never be duplicated. Oh, about the red room...this is an instance of where a scene that didn’t work for me in one format worked in another. When it was tacked onto the international pilot, it felt like retarded bullshit that was just chucked in for the sake of being weird. In the second episode, it somehow fit. I know that it was filmed specifically for the international pilot and not the second episode, but it still worked better here.

After a few more episodes, I became a huge fan of this show. I started to love the characters, the story was great, and more importantly, I wanted my friends to watch it. This is always a sign that you’re watching something special. The only thing that damped my excited was that I knew all the baggage that came with this show. Through reading about it over the years, I knew who the killer was and that the show apparently goes downhill after the reveal. I stayed positive throughout though. It was great entertainment, and I started to like the characters enough that I was more than willing to watch them in whatever non-Laura Palmer plots they wind up in. The show was that good.

I haven’t discussed the characters yet, but I’ll just briefly state that Agent Dale Cooper is one of my favorite TV creations. He’s clean-cut in a way that isn’t retarded, and his excitement and wonder at the novelty of this small town is charming without being condescending. The Horne brothers were also far more entertaining than they had any right to be, and I fucking loved the obsession with food. Audrey eventually grew on me, and her transformation after what happened to her during her own investigation was fairly depressing, but it did a great job of making her less annoying than she was in those early episodes.

When I saw the episode where the killer was revealed, I was shocked. People bitched about how it was revealed, but in Lynch’s world, it made sense. It wasn’t so much who the killer was, it was how that information was revealed. I’m trying to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, so I’m not going to say who it is. However, the reveal is shown through one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever seen in any format. It’s not so much that the scene is violent (and it has to stand as one of the most violent things to ever air on TV), it’s the combination of that violence with sadness and insanity, along with Lynch’s directorial tricks that make the scene longer and more devastating than I expected. I don’t remember how long the scene actually was, but fuck did it seem like a long time, and not in a bad way. It was one of those few times where my mouth fell open in shock, and I just looked blankly at the screen. It was that fucking good. The follow-up episode, where the killer is finally caught, was also pretty good, but not nearly as much as the previous episode. End the show there, and it would be remembered as one of the greatest shows of the 90s, if not of all time.

But of course, that didn’t happen. In the following episodes, there are a number of plots that are either boring (Cooper under investigation for crossing the border, James shacks up with some random lady) or insultingly retarded (eyepatch lady has superpowers and thinks she’s a teen, Andy keeps worrying about his “sperms,” there’s a kid that they think is a devil, blah blah blah). It was a chore watching the rest of the series, and I started dreading each new disc that came in (I was Netflxing the show). The humor was embarrassingly bad slapsticky shit that hasn’t been funny since the Three Stooges nailed that shit years ago. The focus shifted to plots no one could possibly give a shit about, Cooper started being moved to the background, and the whole thing just seemed to lose focus and fall apart. I have never seen anything go from brilliant to godawful so fast. It would be like Dylan following Highway 61 Revisited with several variations on Self Portrait. If I had never seen the show and just ran across these episodes while flipping through channels, my immediate thought would be “what is this bullshit?” and then laugh at it. Then change the channel.

However, as the show started coming to a close, things unexpectedly turned interesting. There was a new Cooper plot, and while the villain wasn’t handled as well as he should have been, it was at least interesting. At the very last possible minute, the show reminded viewers why people talked about it so much in the first place. The beauty pageant plot was dull, but it ended on the right note, and the climax leading to the final episode was pretty well done. And then Lynch came in and directed the final episode, and hooooooooly shit. Twin Peaks set the bar for this kind of thing, but the last episode of Twin Peaks takes the cake for being the strangest hour of television ever aired, even more so than any of the previous episodes. I will fully admit that half of it was nothing more than Lynch jacking off and showing his sperm-encrusted sock to the viewer, but my God was it great. This episode firmly established Twin Peaks as a place where things are definitely not right, where evil exists and hides in the woods. Though the show was struggling to find its way after the Laura Palmer plot was resolved, I feel that the last episode set the stage for stories that focused more on the creepiness of the town and less on moronic slapstick. I was legitimately surprised, and saddened, that after hating half of the second season, the final episode left me wanting more.

I haven’t seen the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but my understanding is that it’s a prequel to the show (in a way) and doesn’t resolve any of the cliff-hangers in the last episode. I guess they don’t really need to be resolved, but still. It’s a shame that the show got so bad while trying to find it’s footing again, because now it seems to be known mainly for disappointing viewers and jumping the shark rather than for reaching the heights that it did early on. The most surprising thing about this show isn’t the strangeness of it, it’s the fact that for a brief moment, mainstream TV viewers were addicted to a TV show co-created by the guy who made Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. Now that’s more mind-boggling than a backwards-forwards-talking dwarf and giant kickin’ it with the dead in a red room.