*** PIXIES "Bossa Nova" 4AD/Elektra : Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic). :

On their second major-label album, alternative rock faves the Pixies come off as a cross between art monsters Sonic Youth and moody nostalgiameister Chris Isaak--full of noise and rage and clever/off-putting deconstruction, but deferring to classic pop instincts at surprising turns.

"Bossa Nova" starts off with a sprightly surf instrumental (the Surftones' "Cecilia Ann"), foretelling the kind of guitar sound that pops up repeatedly on the album. It's followed immediately by a thrashing blast of angry guitar and inarticulate howling, with nary an intelligible word: the slyly titled "Rock Music," the best metal song of the year under two minutes. From there on, some tracks sport truncated pop hooks and way-buried vocals, while others are longer, more abrasive and upfront, punkishly rhythmic.

Once deciphered--which is not a good idea--the lyrics tend to be as banal as anything the New Kids could offer. What makes the Pixies special is how they combine the mystery that's an essential strain in the rock tradition with the grungy, garage-band earthiness that's also part of the tradition. If it might be, ultimately, an artistic dead end, there's definite alchemy in this Pixie dust.

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