Most Pixies fans know that the mini-album Come On Pilgrim was taken from The Purple Tape, the 17-song demo the group cut during their first studio session in 1987. Fifteen years later, Pixies answer the nagging question, "What became of the rest of the demos?" While many of them appeared on bootlegs, this nine-song collection is a useful document for die-hard Pixies fans, not only because it compiles all the remaining demos in one place, but because it also sheds some light on the band's creative process. The Purple Tape is arguably the purest version of the Pixies' sound, buzzing with the vitality of the band laying down their crazed songs as quickly as possible -- 17 of them in three days -- and relatively free of the abrasive and glossy influences that producers Steve Albini and Gil Norton brought to their subsequent work. Interestingly, the remaining songs from The Purple Tape didn't all appear on the group's first full album, Surfer Rosa, though that's where several of them ended up; instead, the Pixies returned to these songs throughout their career, dispersing them in a surprisingly even fashion through Doolittle, Bossanova, and Trompe le Monde. As with any collection of demos, the main attraction here is in hearing what the band changed or discarded, and Pixies deliver the goods. The previously unreleased (officially, anyway) "Rock a My Soul" may be the album's biggest treasure, an irresistible throwaway that captures the Pixies at their poppiest and most cryptic. As good as any of their B-sides and, arguably, some of their later album tracks, it's too bad the group never found room for it on an album or single. Conversely, several of the songs that did show up on later albums and singles sound better here than they did in their final renditions. "Down to the Well," never one of the Pixies' best songs, sounds much fresher than the rather stiff take that appears on Bossanova; "Build High"'s weird, unhinged rodeo-punk reveals more of the influence X had on the group's sound than the rather kitschy version that ended up as a Trompe le Monde B-side. Pixies also reveals how much Albini and Norton shaped the group's songs, both for better and for worse: "Break My Body" and "Broken Face" sound essentially the same as the versions that ended up on Surfer Rosa, but lack the apocalyptic punch that Albini gave them; on the other hand, this version of "I'm Amazed" has the slightly softer, melodic bridge that Albini had the group cut because it sounded "too pussy" (actually, the bridge gives the song some much-needed contrast). The minor tweaks Norton and the band gave "Here Comes Your Man" between this version and the one that appeared on Doolittle -- here, some verses are separated and the song's intro is played by the bass instead of the guitar -- were enough to change it from cute to a classic. The major changes made to "Subbacultcha" -- they cut out one part of the song and added it into a completely different track, Trompe le Monde's "Distance Equals Rate Times Time" -- made it tenser and tougher, but possibly less interesting. And though it's essentially the same rendition of the song, the studio version of "In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)" somehow just doesn't sound right without the ferocious burst of applause that follows the live version that appears on the Gigantic single. Still, it's a fitting finale to this short but fascinating document of the Pixies' early days, which is really just more proof that the group had a method to their madness right from the beginning.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares