Evaluated by Claude Lemaire
Rating: 8.0 / B+ (MoFi)
Rating: 7.5 / B+ (4AD)
Category: Alternative / Garage Rock / Noise Pop
Format: Vinyl (180 gram LP at 33 1/3 rpm)
. Black Francis - Vocals, guitar
. Kim Deal - Bass guitar,
. Joey Santiago - Lead guitar, backing vocals
. David Lovering - Drums
. Arthur Fiacco – cello on "Monkey Gone to Heaven"
. Karen Karlsrud – violin on "Monkey Gone to Heaven"
. Corine Metter – violin on "Monkey Gone to Heaven"
. Ann Rorich – cello on "Monkey Gone to Heaven"
. Written by Black Francis
. Produced and Engineered October 31, November 23, 1988 by Gil Norton at Dowtown Recorders, Boston, Ma.
. Assisted by Engineers Dave Snider and Matt Lane
. Mixed by Engineer Steve Haigler at Carriage Studios, Stamford, CT.
. Mastered and lacquer cutted at Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in Sebastopole, CA by engineer Rob LoVerde on the "Gain 2 System"
. Pressed at RTI in California
. Art Direction and Design - Vaughan Olivier at 23 Envelope
. Photography - Simon Larbalestier
This review is the second of a two-part; the first covering their 1988 debut album Surfer Rosa [MFSL 1-296] and everything surrounding it; roots and influential impact included. The latter is - prior - recommended reading for better understanding.
On this third Pixie release, the band changed producers once more. As opposed to Surfer Rosa, where engineer Steve Albini left his (non-interference) stamp by 'studio-stripping them naked', here they took another direction and went with British record producer and engineer Gil Norton who had previously worked on what is arguably Echo & the Bunnymen's strongest effort, 1984's Ocean Rain [Korova]; 4AD was certainly looking for a more 'traditional' producer's approach for this LP. The fact that they stuck with Norton for two further albums - 1990's Bossanova [4AD CAD 0010 or MFSL 1-311] and 1991's Trompe le Monde [4AD CAD 1014 or MFSL 1-364] - implies that whatever friction existed between Francis and Norton (regarding song layers, tempos and lenghts), both parties found enough common ground to make it work. Interesting is the 'delta factor' between Pixies, Nirvana and the common link uniting them - Albini. As alluded in part one; the band's second release Surfer Rosa - which later influenced Nirvana - was engineered and '(non) produced' by Albini while Nirvana's second release - the breakthrough Nevermind - was studio-produced by Butch Vig. Only after, did they 'dump him' and revert to a more 'purist' approach for their third release - In Utero - by hiring Albini while Pixies and 4AD had done the opposite two years prior.
"La La Love You" is a very original mid-tempo composition. The 4AD shows lots of emphasis on the 'snap' part of the kick while snare, cymbals and guitar strumming are clearly defined in the balanced mix. Nitpicking, some minute fuzz or dirt around the 8 kHz is hinted at. All in all, equal to the previous track, maintaining a high quality level. The MoFi displays superb deep lows and good kick articulation. Add to this; refined guitar strumming at the other end of the spectrum surpassing the 4AD in the top octave and absolutely perfect tonal balance leading to the second, if not the best sounding track of the LP.
"No. 13 Baby" is a slow tempo, mostly instrumental track alternating between loud electric guitar and a smoother acoustic side. Both versions were good with the 4AD offering a punchier kick intro and the MoFi, a more refined top end benefitting the acoustic string-strumming. Take your pick.
"There Goes My Gun" is to my taste the least inspiring song of the album. The original 4AD has a thin sound as if a lo-cut was applied, is compressed with an ascending tonal balance making it the worse sounding track of an otherwise well engineered project. Strangely it tends to coincide with side A's "Here Comes Your Man" in physical position vinyl-wise as well as sharing similar sonic aesthetics. The MoFi improves things a bit by going lower in the bass and surprise, better kick. Generally much cleaner and compression seems lessened. Advantage: MoFi.
The original 4AD's "Hey" is very dynamic, with great punch and deep lows. The treble and hi-hat are pretty much well balanced with just a hint of dirt and distortion, warming things up like a subtle tube flavoring; making it hard to beat. The MoFi does just that; with superb deep lows; a wider soundstage; a clean ride cymbal; incredible dynamic swing on snare; many short crescendo bursts and a perfect, creamy-smooth balance. Impressive enough to merit a - rare - perfect score and finding it the best sounding track of the album. Both masterings appeared cut at a slightly averaged lower level.
The only song penned by Fancis and Deal, "Silver" is quite original in style, standing out as a pair of white snickers would, at a royal wedding. With its big thumping bass drum setting the slow pace and dissonant twangy guitars bringing a hill country blues imprint to the track. The 4AD possesses good bass slam and places it front and center. The guitars are distorted to a degree and some minor inner groove distortion overlays the treble. Even so, the sheer bass 'whacks' let you forget or pass over the small irritants. The MoFi has a much wider soundstage, cleaner panned guitars and the bass slam veers more towards the lowest foundation rumbling than the higher punch. Almost too close to call on this one, but forced to choose: the MoFi by a sliver.
"Gouge Away" closes Doolittle with a more conventional 'compo'. The 4AD, as is often the case, is punchier in the bass and kick drum. The top end is veiled, lacking detail - remember we are close to the 21-minute mark - this reduces the stage width, sounding more mono-ish. Distortion increases a bit as we approach the coda. The MoFi has clean, panned electric guitars in the beginning and during the softer parts while the louder parts show the inner groove distortion creeping up, slightly more apparent than on the 4AD. I hypothesize this is mainly due to the 'modulated groove' terminating closer to the label, thus confirming my initial visual worry of 'cutting up' to such a small radius.
Summing up, contrary to KC and the Sunshine Band [MOFI 1-012] and The Cars Shake It Up [MFSL 1-325] where the reissues trounced the original from start to finish, producing a clear-cut winner; this second Pixie reissue by Mobile Fidelity while excellent, does not produce such a 'slam-dunk' outcome. That should not come as such a surprise, because the original import on 4AD (can't vouch for the Elektra distributed U.S. copy) simply was not 'messed up' like so many other 1980s releases; in fact it already held up pretty well. What MoFi has done is improved the visual and tactile aspects over any previous version in a substantial way and with RTI's expertise, provided a superior, thicker, noise-free pressing. Regarding Rob LeVorde remastering; although I preferred certain tracks or EQ choices on the 4AD (mainly for the accentuated punch and drive); by and large he significantly improved the bottom end on most tracks and with the half-speed mastering/cutting method, brought a refinement in the top end that did not exist prior to this reissue. In all fairness, during my evaluation I took several notes and rated every track of both issues individually on a scale of one to ten, added up the total and finally divided by fifteen to get the album average. For those interested: out of a maximum of 150, the 4AD gathered a total of 114, while the MoFi got 119, each roughly averaging 7.5 and 8.0 on 10 respectively. In that respect, the Mofi slightly comes out on top. Ratings varied between a low of 6.0 and a high of 10.
Final thoughts; if you are thinking of getting only one Pixies LP, go for MoFi's Surfer Rosa [MFSL 1-296]; with Albini at the helm and the superb remastering MoFi did, you cannot go wrong. If 'two is in the bag' and you are hesitating between which Doolittle to go with; the deluxe packaging alone would sway me towards the MoFi [MFSL 1-309]. Better yet, try to find a decent second-hand 4AD copy and add it to the above duo and make it a threesome, it's so much more fun.