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