“It was the one that made me go ‘Holy shit.’ It was so fresh. It rocked without being lame.” Billy Corgan
“It blew my mind.” PJ Harvey
“They changed my life.” Thom Yorke
“The most compelling music of the entire 1980s.” David Bowie
March 21, 1988, three months after its completion in a Boston recording studio, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa is released on English independent record label, 4AD. At the time, who would have known the impact it would have or the legacy and influence it would leave, still a quarter of a century after its release. Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Weezer, Pavement, Modest Mouse, Blur…the list may read of a who’s who of 90s alt rock, but that’s precisely how influential Surfer Rosa became to that movement. Without the impact of college rock staples such as the Pixies, we may not have been so lucky later on to hear such names. Whilst its quiet-loud dynamic may have been regularly imitated, Surfer Rosa has simply not been equaled or bettered since its release, still sounding as fresh and raw on regular plays as it was 25 years ago.
It cost just $10,000 to make, with producer, former Big Black front man Steve Albini, receiving $1500 and no royalties from its sales, which would eventually end up going Gold in the US in 2005, around the time of their reunion. Albini’s abrasive and lo-fi punk noise added to the pop dynamics and surf rock influences of the Pixies, which made them stand alone and pushed them away from the hardcore punk scene of 80s US alt rock. The surrealism element that has always been the cornerstone of the Pixies’ sound was also present, with themes including mutilation and voyeurism “Gigantic” is supplemented by its burst of distorted guitar noise and welcoming bass intro, “Cactus” is a slow burning mood changer and the Pixies’ most famous hit, “Where is My Mind?”, a one-take ode to insanity and ecstasy.
Surfer Rosa’s impact helped push the US college rock scene into the mainstream, with Pixies’ follows up eagerly anticipated and more accessible to commercialisation, concluding with appearances on MTV’s 120 Minutes, The Late Show on BBC2 and a headline set at Reading Festival in 1990. By the late 80s and early 90s, alternative rock began to incorporate more airtime on radio stations, rather than being secluded solely to college radio, which in turn saw the breakout of grunge and alternative rock to a much wider audience than before.
Its legacy is compounded with its appearance at 315th Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, whilst it was also Pitchfork’s seventh best album of the 1980s, who incidentally had the follow up, Doolittle, placed above Surfer Rosa. They would later beef up their production for Doolittle with Gil Norton, with Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis in the belief that Surfer Rosa “sounded way better than the other ones.”