Every Pixies fan knows there’s no such thing as a bad Pixies album – great for them, maybe, but it makes ranking their albums something of a challenge. Everyone has their favorite, everyone has an opinion, and everyone knows that even on a bad day, the Pixies are more compelling than most bands can even dream of. Widely considered one of the most influential bands to emerge from the 1990s, they’ve spawned legions of imitators, shaped the direction of alt-rock, and created one of the most enviable legacies in modern music. Here’s how we rank all the Pixies albums from worst to best.
7. Head Carrier
As medium.com says, even if it might technically be their worst album, 2016’s Head Carrier still represents a great evolution in the band’s development, especially on the standout track All I Think About Now, which moves away from the band’s characteristic loud-quiet-loud philosophy to create a moment of hushed, wistful beauty. Elsewhere, Talent and Um Chagga Lagga find the band letting loose and delivering some classic Pixies rock, while Classic Masher Bel Esprit has the same amiable, easy-going spirit as Here Comes Your Man. Paz Lenchantin proves a worthy replacement for founding bassist Kim Deal (who departed prior to Indie Cindy), striking up an easy relationship with the rest of the band and delivering enough sweet harmonies to be worthy of Deal herself. If we had to pick a fault (and considering the album’s lowly ranking, we’re going to have to), it would be with the jarring Baals Back, which seems to aim for the delicious oddness of the band’s best songs but ends up sounding just… odd. Released on September 30, 2016, the album hit number 72 on the Billboard 200 and number 7 on the UK Albums Chart.
6. Indie Cindy
After a 13 year absence, the Pixies returned in 2004 with Indie Cindy. Founding bassist Kim Deal had gone, replaced (temporarily) with former The Fall member, Simon “Dingo” Archer. Considering her role in shaping the sound of the band’s previous output, Deal’s loss was huge, but even though her absence is palpable, the album is far from the disaster it could have been. Granted, it’s not as jarringly vital as the band’s earlier material, but a few ill-judged clunkers aside, there’s still plenty to get excited over, including the wonderfully tense Magdalena and the spacey but sincere Greens and Blues, which features some particularly lovely guitar work from Joey Santiago. It occasionally sounds like the Pixies ‘doing’ the Pixies, but considering the length of their absence and the major impact they’d had on the development of indie rock in that period, it was almost inevitable there’d be an element of that. But while no one would claim it’s another Doolittle, it’s still a fine album and a worthy addition to the band’s catalog.
5. Beneath the Eyrie
No, it doesn’t come close to scaling the heights of their early work, but of all the albums released since their 2004 comeback, 2019’s Beneath the Eyrie is perhaps the best, with a newfound maturity that finds the band dipping into their mellower, more pop-oriented side. Described by Popmatters as a “portrait” of the band’s “musical progression and an arresting glimpse of the group in this contemporary musical moment,” it’s a nuanced, cohesive album from a band finally emerging from the shadow of their legacy. Standout tracks worth revisiting include Silver Bullet, Graveyard Hill, and the brilliantly surly This Is My Fate, which combines a classic Joey Santiago solo with strange but persuasive autoharp embellishments.
4. Trompe Le Monde
Trompe Le Monde is a phenomenal album. Lime Lizard has even described it as “one of the best albums that you may very well ever hear” and “a strong contender for best album of the 20th century.” If we were dealing with any other band than the Pixies, it would be at number one. As it is, it ranks as the lowest of their pre-comeback albums, not through any fault of the album, but simply because the other three are even better. The only real shame is that Kim Deal is barely present, both in terms of song contributions and backing vocals. Other than that, it’s meticulous, with the incendiary cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Head On, the hipster dissing Subbacultcha, and the evocative The Sad Punk standing out as highlights.
Tensions between Kim Deal and Black Francis had escalated during the Doolittle tour, with Francis launching a guitar at Deal during a concert in Stuttgart and Deal becoming increasingly frustrated at Francis’ control over the band’s output. Following the end of the tour, the band took a short hiatus, returning in 1990 with their third album, Bossanova. By that stage, Deal had found a new outlet for her creativity with the Breeders, with the result that the album became the first not to feature any of her songs. But while the cracks were starting to show, Bossanova is still an incredibly fine album, with shimmering classics like Havalina, Allison, Cecilia Ann, Velouria and Is She Weird making up for the minor failings of tracks like Blown Away and Hang Wire.
2. Surfer Rosa
Both Surfer Rosa and Doolittle have a strong case to be number one, but ultimately, one of them has to take silver place and today, we’ve gone for Surfer Rosa. Tomorrow might be a different story. As All Music says, it might not be the group’s most accessible work, but it’s one of their most compelling, with Black Francis’ menacing shrieks, David Lovering and Kim Deal’s stabbing rhythms and Joey Santago’s shimmering guitar made all the more exhilarating by Steve Albini’s beefy production. Where Is My Mind? showed they could handle straightforward pop (or their warped version of it, anyway) just as well as punk, while Kim Deal’s Gigantic threatens to blow the entire album clean away. Bonkers, but brilliant.
Surfer Rosa may have been brilliant, but it was extreme, with too much noise and underlying menace to make it into the mainstream. For its fellow up, the Pixies reined in some of their eccentricities, applied a bit of spit and polish, tightened up the songwriting, and in the process, created one of the seminal albums of the 20th century. It’s still got weirdness by the bucket load, but in amongst the sea of gleeful madness, there are sweet pop moments like Here Comes Your Man and La La Love You, along with enough big hooks to make even their most freaky moments sound fun and accessible. Big, broad, and utterly infectious, it’s a bona fide masterpiece.