The Pixies 1987 debut Come on Pilgrim may or may not be the only EP on Treble’s Best of the ’80s list. That uncertainty comes from however one chooses to classify the recording—an eight track disc running less than half an hour and compiled entirely from the band’s 17 track demo, the remaining nine of which were reissued around 15 years later. It’s short, but at eight tracks, and lacking the filler of a typical EP, it may actually be considered a `mini-album’ by most, including myself. And like the remaining four Pixies releases, it’s an absolutely essential inclusion in the band’s catalog.
Like a demo might typically sound, the songs on Come on Pilgrim are raw and exposed, untouched by studio gloss and big budget recording techniques. Yet, in spite of its inherent unrefined sound, it is remarkably loud, and avoids being bogged down by analog tape hiss. In fact, whatever abrasive elements remain only act to enhance the intense, punk-inspired approach. Yet they weren’t quite a `punk’ band. This was the beginning of the shape of `indie rock’ as we know it today.
Consisting of frontman Black Francis, guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering and bassist Kim Deal (who answered Frank Black’s ad calling for a musician into both Husker Du and Peter, Paul and Mary), The Pixies were something of an anomaly, playing with ferocity and often times at a breakneck pace. Black’s lyrics also touched upon unconventional topics and social taboos, such as religion, sex and even incest, as best displayed in his cry of “you are the sun of a motherfucker” in “Nimrod’s Son.”
The opener “Caribou” tramples through a waltz like a herd of…well, caribou I guess, Black alternately singing melodically in the verses and howling the song’s title during the chorus like a wolf. Yet the bridge brings the most blood-curdling moment, as he shouts “reeeee-peeennnnnt!” Chaotic jam-fest “Vamos” follows, in rawer, shorter form than as it’s presented on proper debut full-length Surfer Rosa. The brief “Isla de la Encanta” shoots full speed ahead, with Spanish sung lyrics to match, coming to a halt at the chorus with Black chanting “me voy/me voy.” The lopsided “Ed is Dead” finds Black singing about a surfer girl, while “The Holiday Song” finds Black visiting that nagging theme of incest again. Musically, this track is among the most direct and hard rocking, making it one of the true high points on the record.
From the manic, descending riffs of “Nimrod’s Son” to the conversation narrative of “I’ve Been Tired” to the climactic “Levitate Me,” which could either be about sex or religion, as is often the case, Come on Pilgrim closes on a high point. Among the eight songs here, there are no bad songs, only great ones and near-great ones. And that’s part of what makes The Pixies so unique; their reunion may not be as fruitful as we had hoped, but they had a near flawless five-year, five-album run. Hardly any other band can make a similar claim.