Wave of Mutilation

Song Review by

Pixies found the perfect match in the ability of Gil Norton's rock-solid sound production to balance the twist and turns of the band's typically brief tunes, such as "Wave of Mutilation." On the group's commercial breakthrough, Doolittle, the precise recordings have a way of bringing the hooks to the fore, while never sacrificing the band's restless energy. A swift, surf-inflected ditty, clocking in a just over two minutes; the song manages to work in several tempo changes into a compact arrangement with an obscure nautical theme. Within the first 30 seconds, the band has run through all the song's changes, condensed into a mini-intro. The music begins with a straight rock beat, Joey Santiago soon joining in, working a buzzing quick fire riff on guitar, playing off the not yet established vocal melody. The drums drop onto the toms, the bass building in behind, before giving way to a double-time tempo that will drive the chorus, beefed up by a wall of distorted guitars. When the vocal enters for the first verse, these guitars hold large sustained chords, letting Kim Deal drive the song with her propulsive bass guitar. Black Francis sings with a kind of whispered hush, "Cease to resist, giving my goodbye/Drive my car into the ocean," then building up to the chorus, his vocal soaring with a doubled harmony declaring with triumphant defiance, "You'll think I'm dead, but I'll sail away/On a wave of mutilation." The pace quickens, the tempo doubling as Francis repeats the title line. Like many of his songs, the lyrics are brief and cryptic, though many of them seem to involve the ocean, beaches, and esoteric Hispanic references. While attending the University of Massachusetts, Francis spent six months in Puerto Rico to learn Spanish, a period that must have made an impression, as many Pixies song's revisit similar territory. The words remain somewhat impenetrable. For example the last verse reads, "I've kissed mermaids, rode the El Nino/Walked the sands with the crustaceans/Could find my way to Mariana/On a wave of mutilation." The band holds big ringing chords, the drums accenting with cymbals as Francis repeats the word "wave," extending the single syllable for maximum effect. The chorus is doubled for the conclusion, the melody rising with a triumphant beauty, but no moment is overextended in the arrangement, the song quickly closing after Francis intones the final "wave." "Wave of Mutilation" was frequently found on the band's live set list and can be heard on a multitude of bootlegs. The song was also included on Pixies at the BBC, a compilation of the groups live studio recordings for John Peel, played in the alternate "U.K. Surf" arrangement as it is credited on the B-side to the "Here Comes Your Man" single.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Doolittle 1989 Elektra 2:04
B-Side File: 2nd Edition 1994 Gema 3:02
Death to the Pixies 1987-1991 1997 Elektra 3:05
Rough Diamonds 199? Blue Moon 1:58
Complete B-Sides 2001 4AD 3:00
Spike Video Game Awards Hits, Vol. 1: Best of Video Game Music 2004
Various Artists
Artemis Records 2:04
Spike TV Video Game Awards: Best of Video Game Music Hits, Vol. 1 2004
Various Artists
Artemis Records 2:04
Southland Tales 2007
Original Soundtrack
Milan 3:01