‘Head On’ by The Jesus & Mary Chain covered by Pixies – Magnificent Cover Version No.16

The Pixies’ cover of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Head On was released as a single in May 1991 – less than a year and a half after the original came out. As with Dinosaur Jr’s cover of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven the turning of the decade influences the musical style of each recording – the late-80s original features a drum machine and synthetic bass, while the guitars are heavier and more prominent on the grunge-era cover. But other than that, there’s not much to distinguish the two records apart from the vocal styles of the singers – Jim Reid’s drawl versus Black Francis’s holler.

Thanks to the compilation album Product 2378, Head On was The Jesus & Mary Chain song that I was most familiar for a long time. In the video, the Reid brothers looks like they might kill or cry at any moment, bringing to mind their manager Alan McGee’s famous comment about William, “He always seemed really annoyed we were imposing on his life of being a hermit in East Kilbride”.

I always liked the Mary Chain’s hedonistic original but the Pixies’ reworking tops it for me, precisely because of the stylistic changes and Charles’s holler. It was still an odd choice of second single to be released from Trompe Le Monde though; as was the first taster from that album, Letter To Memphis. But the Pixies were famous for sabotaging their own success, as can be seen by the big, MTV-averse ‘fuck yous’ their videos for Velouria and Here Comes Your Man were.

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The Pixies were always more of an album band anyway. Trompe Le Monde is one of their least lauded LPs, suffering as a result of the rising tensions within the band. Third album Bossanova is similarly seen as a poor relation by fans, but I have a soft spot for it because it was the first vinyl album I ever bought when I got my first record player in 1990 and consequently it got A LOT of plays and secured a special place in my heart.

The following year, I bought Trompe as soon as it came out too, but never really warmed to it in the same way. Maybe with Bossanova, the novelty of having a brand new Pixies album made Kim Deal’s diminished role less noticeable, whereas on the follow-up there was no escaping the absence of her vocals. It’s got some great songs on it though, other than Head On – Planet Of Sound, Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons, Motorway To Roswell – and if you listen to it in the context of the band’s last two albums, rather than their first two, it’s actually pretty great.

That said, everyone loves the Pixies no matter what and Head Carrier is pretty great too. I have tickets for their UK tour next month and I’m willing to bet that Head On gets a play.

Edit: they DID play it and it sounded incredible – Charles’s scream in person is still phenomenally powerful!

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Pixies – ‘Head Carrier’, Everyone Loves The Pixies

Review of the Pixies’ 2016 album Head Carrier for Sabotage Times

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Everyone loves the Pixies. Their output from their heyday 25 plus years ago inspires so much enduring affection that it really doesn’t matter how good Head Carrier, their new album, is. Original fans and newcomers will keep listening to them, the band will sell out whenever they play and everyone will still love them.

We know this because in 2014 they released their first album for 23 years, Indie Cindy. What should have been a triumphant return ended up being slightly underwhelming, partly because Indie Cindy was nothing more than a collection of three, already-released EPs in their entirety, and partly because it didn’t really sound like the Pixies. Despite this, everybody still loved them. The Pixies have a lot of goodwill.

For most people, this affection stems from the output of the band’s heyday in the late ‘80s. The Pixies first two albums, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle (along with their debut mini-LP, Come On Pilgrim) are among the most memorable and influential alternative rock recordings of all time, featuring enduring classics like Monkey Gone To Heaven, Gigantic and Where Is My Mind?

Rifts within the band, particularly between frontman Black Francis and bass player/vocalist Kim Deal led to its demise in the early-‘90s, after they’d released two more excellent, but less beloved albums.

Always more popular in Europe than in the US, the band’s reputation in their homeland only grew during their hiatus. Even so, it was a shock when the original line-up reformed and started playing gigs in 2004. The truce between Francis and Deal always seemed uneasy and she left, apparently for good before new material for Indie Cindy was recorded.

Paz Lenchantin is the charismatic new bass player and female voice in the band. She doesn’t exactly impersonate Kim Deal but, you can certainly hear her influence on Lenchantin, which is understandable and her presence seems to have revitalised the band.

A strong female voice and understated basslines are not the only classic Pixies traits that have returned for this album. Their trademark loud/quiet/loud dynamics can be heard on Tenement Song and on the excellent, unconventional love song Oona, which also features characteristic violent imagery (“Oona, I will await destruction”). There are skewed pop songs like Classic Masher and Bel Esprit which also benefits from the soaring harmonies between Francis and Lenchantin, who even gets a solo song, All I Think About Now which flies audaciously close to Where Is My Mind territory.

For those who like their Pixies on the heavier side there’s Baals Back in which Francis unleashes his ferocious scream, and the unhinged rockabilly of Um Chagga Lagga which features a classic Joey Santiago guitar solo. The downbeat All The Saints includes a wobbly surf guitar that would have fit snugly onto third album Bossanova. There are even some of the undercooked lyrics that main songwriter Black Francis has always been prone to; example, on Talent, “Talent, fighting on the east side, talent, taking on the west side, talent, fucking up the north side”. All these traits, along with the high quality of the songs mean that Head Carrier sounds like the Pixies again.

So it doesn’t matter how good Head Carrier is; the important thing is that the Pixies are around as a functional, current band, doing what bands do – touring and recording new material – which should please everyone who loves them, original fans and newcomers. Nobody would have expected the new album to be as good as Surfer Rosa or Doolittle, and of course it never reaches those creative peaks, but it’s easily a match for anything else in their output. It didn’t really matter if was any good or not, but Head Carrier improves with every listen and more importantly, it showcases the Pixies sounding like the Pixies again.

A slightly edited version of this article can be read in Sabotage Times here