June 20 [10:00 EDT] -- The Pixies were the great band that ended up a disappointment. With heavy guitars pulsating beneath truly twisted lyrics, voiced by the mad dual vocals of Black Francis (now Frank Black, originally Charles Michael Kitteridge Thompson IV) and bassist Kim Deal (now the leader of the Breeders, known in the early Pixies days as Mrs. John Murphy), the Pixies may have influenced Nirvana and a whole fleet of other musicians and music lovers. But they didn't last. The Pixies broke up before they could even begin to reap the benefits of the grunge explosion for which they laid a part of the foundation.
It was 1988 when the Boston-based Pixies released their first full-length album, "Surfer Rosa." Driven by Black Francis's distinctively piercing vocals and produced by Steve Albini, the album is long since seen as their finest. Songs like "Gigantic" show off Kim Deal's talents, while Black wrote bizarre and intense lyrics.
One of his favorite themes was
alien life. "It's an irresistible topic," Black told MTV, "that most everyone enjoys even secretly." Black himself is a not-so-secret fan of astronomy who almost passed up forming a band at all; in 1986 if he hadn't formed the Pixies, his next choice was a trip to New Zealand to see Halley's Comet.
Black's vocals dominated the Pixies. Kim Deal sang now and then, but not enough. "I started the Breeders stuff," she told MTV, "so I could sing more." The Breeders released the album Pod in 1990 to great critical acclaim and continued to work alongside the Pixies--but the fire underneath the Pixies was going out. On their last two albums, Bossanova in 1990 and 1991's Trompe Le Monde, the band's sound had lost much of its strength. Soon all that remained was their legacy.
Black Francis embarked on a solo career as Frank Black. He hasn't lost the extra-terrestrial theme, releasing an album called The Cult of Ray in honor of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. He's also
contributed music to the soundtrack for The X-Files. (Black, furthermore, is the apparent inspiration for the name of the protagonist of the "Millenium" television series.)The Breeders eventually became bigger than the Pixies ever were. In 1993 they hit it big with their platinum-selling Last Splash. The hit song "Cannonball" got the Breeders a main-stage slot on Lollapalooza the next summer. The Pixies and the bands they spawned, however great their success, were fated for eventual demise. The Breeders seem to have ultimately faltered, plagued by drug problems of Deal's twin sister Kelley and chronic side-projecting (out of which has grown the Amps, the Josephine Wiggs Experience, and the Kelley Deal 6000 to name a few). The biggest success Frank Black saw may have been his name change. "They really like calling me Frank," he told MTV. "I must look like a Frank as opposed to a Black."