February 03, 1992 12:00 PM


In the late ’80s, the Pixies pulled off a difficult trick: bridging the gap between mainstream hard rock and the arty stuff. They set vaguely poetic lyrics and complex melodies to guitar furies usually reserved for raw anthems about sex and drugs. On their fourth album, the Pixies are still making this hybrid sound beguiling.

Give them three guitars and a drum set, and this Boston-bred quartet will rip the plaster off the walls and rearrange the wreckage into thoughtful sculptures, complete with brain-twister lyrics by lead singer Black Francis. “Space (I Believe In),” for instance, includes an incongruous reference to the fact that distance equals rate of speed times time.

In the past the Pixies gained some of their disorienting power by alternating between frenzied electric outbursts and acoustic interludes replete with whispered vocals. Trompe le Monde lacks that fine-tuned tension. A few of the songs blend into each other because they linger too long in one dark mood, instead of rising above it with the band’s usual ironies.

But most of the album is good, and the best song, “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons,” shows that the original Pixies formula still works beautifully. The strange lyrics full of longing, the light, surf-rock guitar-picking and the dissonant power chords that threaten danger add up to a fresh sound—a swirl from the conflicting currents that make music, and life, so interesting. (Elektra)

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