Trompe le Monde
|Trompe le Monde|
|Studio album by Pixies|
|Released||September 23, 1991|
Trompe le Monde is the Pixies' fourth and final full-length studio album, released on September 23, 1991 through the 4AD record label. The album name comes from the title of the first track, and is a French phrase meaning "Fool the World".
- Trompe le Monde
- Planet of Sound
- Alec Eiffel
- The Sad Punk
- Head On
- Palace of the Brine
- Letter to Memphis
- Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons
- Space (I Believe In)
- Distance Equals Rate Times Time
- Lovely Day
- Motorway to Roswell
- The Navajo Know
|1991||The Billboard 200||92|
|1991||UK Album Chart||7|
Singles - Billboard (North America)
|1991||"Letter to Memphis"||Modern Rock Tracks||6|
|1992||"Head On"||Modern Rock Tracks||6|
Gallup (United Kingdom)
|1991||"Planet of Sound"||Gallup Top 75||27|
Now over a decade removed from its release, Trompe le Monde still isn't garnering the attention it deserves as maybe, maybe the Pixies' best release. The official party line is that, as the fourth album in four years (and fifth in five years if you want to count 1987's Come On Pilgrim EP), Trompe le Monde was simply the set-up for Frank Black Francis' solo career that would be soon forthcoming. As such, it supposedly "suffers" without the weightless balance of Kim Deal's now-tar-ravaged backing vocals or Francis' foot in the real world, the lead singer and guitarist now having completely delved into the subject of space, extraterrestrials, and other worldly figments of the imagination. Just when no one was talking to each other, the Pixies put together their swan song at an ill-timed juncture in history when Nirvana and the Alternative Nation were preparing to swoop in on Michael Jackson and finally give credit where credit was due. Their 1992 tour with Pere Ubu was to be the final fling before finally reuniting in 2004. It just wasn't the same.
The reality: Trompe le Monde (French for "fool the world," a take on painting style trompe l'oeil, or "fool the eye") is another masterwork that doesn't suffer in the least because of the power struggle Francis and Deal were bitter over during recordings. If nothing else, it is less wildly inconsistent than Bossanova or even the near-holy Doolittle, which many people seem to forget had the odd La La Love You from drummer David Lovering (Nevermind that it, too, was written by Francis). In fact, Deal had exactly two songs in the previous three LPs (Gigantic on Surfer Rosa, Silver on Doolittle) and was forced to form The Breeders in 1989 to channel any of her own creative impulses. That Trompe le Monde gets blasted for this frequently is unjust, and though its clever-if-gaudy cover art is enough to defer anyone to Doolittle, what the album holds is maybe the most lush and interesting songs of their career(s).
Originally rumored to be a double, the album starts off with its self-aware title song and all the quirky delights of a typical Pixies masterpiece. Sampling a "song from Washington state" (though what it is, we'll probably never know), Francis also introduces the space themes which carry on through the raucous first single Planet of Sound. Planet of Sound is a good example of why people were so disappointed in Trompe le Monde upon its arrival and why it's never really gotten over the initially hesitant reviews: With a more raw aggression and frustration than even Surfer Rosa could muster, the Pixies didn't quite deliver on the also-rumored "metal" album... But they weren't chasing space as they did on Bossanova, even when they were singing about it. Their second-to-last single and greatest triumph on this album, Alec Eiffel accomplishes everything the album took 39 minutes for in just under three: Weaving the story of Gustave Eiffel, architecture, sex and space in and out of squealing feedback and pure noise, the band captures all their magic in a bottle that was rarely duplicated at such a supreme level. The Sad Punk is a cult favorite that reflects on dinosaurs and extinction, while Head On is the final single for the band (unless you want to count Bam Thwok...) and a strange choice as it is not even theirs: Originally a Jesus & Mary Chain song off Automatic, the Reid brothers heard it at Brixton Academy and reportedly approved with the message, "Fuck it, this is how it should sound." U-Mass is a revered criticism of the band's own fanbase, full of college students in college strictly for the experience rather than the education. Ironically, this was hailed as one of the best tracks of the album for exactly that reason... By exactly those people. One barely notices Palace of the Brine in its 1:39 runtime, but it is an endearingly awkward tune that segues perfectly into the only love song Francis ever tried to write intentionally, Letter to Memphis. Another true highlight, Letter to Memphis rolls along with an undulating surf-guitar slide courtesy of Joey Santiago's still-inimitable skills. Truly unique in story, Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons is about the dream of a bird flying over Mars. What's not unique is how it sounds: The Pixies were always getting credit for having a generally loud collection, but the truth was that it was all in the dynamic. Instead of making an entire song loud, blowing out a listener's headphones and ruining the surprise, Francis insisted on making his quiets very quiet. As a direct result, when they do unleash for the chorus here (and on many others), the squalling guitars sound much more noticeable and unleashed than they might've been had the decibels been kept at a maximum throughout. Space (I Believe In) is another surf-inspired dichotomy of loud and soft, Subbacultcha is another fan favorite for being about fans, and the final quartet of songs to round out the album stay consistent to the space themes of the album. Motorway to Roswell could've been another single, but it's instead doomed to the annals of history as just another great Pixies song obscured by its more tenacious brethren.
Ultimately, all 15 cuts are strong enough to talk about, and that I didn't about three of the last four is simply due to space constraints. Trompe le Monde may be the outcast of the Pixies' discography, recorded when everything for the band was falling apart internally and thus derided as an ostensible solo album, but taken as something more than a downbeat coda for one career and the eye- and world-fooling prelude to another (It does say Pixies and not Frank Black, right?), it is a brilliantly cohesive statement that still maintains all the erratic subplots of a typical Pixies release. - PMasterson