Release Date: Sep 30, 2016
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
It’s understandable to be concerned about the Pixies’ recent creative pursuits. The longstanding college rockers have a robust discography with a knack for surrealistic expression that immediately distinguished them from their peers. But if you take that away, you’re pretty much left with a collective unit that always upheld a promise to keep their songs fairly straightforward despite the occasional need to write songs with overtly mischievous motifs.
Two years since their Indie Cindy release, Pixies have brought rock ’n’ roll back with their new album, Head Carrier, which maintains the Pixies’ sound we all know and love, while also shaking things up at times by moving away from the standard formula. The Pixies have come together to create a something that truly embodies their art. Although both Black Francis and Joey Santiago stand in the forefront (with great guitar work), David Lovering and the group’s newest addition, Paz Lenchantin, provide fantastic filler and drive with drums and bass, respectively.
Though they crafted a signature -- and endlessly copied -- style, Pixies' music never stayed in the same place for long. During their early years, the band relished change, moving from Come on Pilgrim's scrappy apocalyptic visions to Doolittle's gleaming pop to Trompe Le Monde's riff-rock at a rapid pace. Indeed, it could be argued that part of the reason their 2014 comeback Indie Cindy underwhelmed was because it tried too hard to recapture the past.
Haters gonna hate, but the band blows up a storm. Has any band of their generation been on such a hiding to nothing as the Pixies? They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and the unjustified amount of flak dished out in their direction in the wake of the perfectly creditable Indie Cindy suggested they’d committed a mortal sin. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads It’s all a question of expectation management.
Everyone has ‘their’ band, that group of musicians that you discover growing up and immediately think ‘you can do THIS? This is allowed?’. For many, Pixies were that band. In a world dominated by homogeneous synth-pop which rolled off the Stock Aitken Waterman production line, the sound of Black Francis screaming and singing songs about losing his penis to a “whore with disease” was one of the most terrifying, yet exhilarating, sounds in the world.
The Pixies' 2014 comeback, Indie Cindy, imagined what might've happened if the band hadn't split up before Nineties alt-rock made its sound huge. The follow-up is looser and less burdened by the past. Joey Santiago's guitar is as melodic and muscular as ever, while Black Francis showcases his throaty assault on "Baal's Back." New bassist Paz Lenchantin's low-end thump owes plenty to Kim Deal, the co-founder she replaced, but her bright harmonies bring a fresh wrinkle, perking up the thrashy "Um Chagga Lagga" and adding poignance to "All I Think About Now," an expression of gratitude to her beloved predecessor.
The Pixies's second post-reunion, post-Kim Deal album, Head Carrier, exudes barely an echo of the experimentation and hooky abrasiveness that characterized the band's original four albums. Instead, it consists mainly of entirely competent, if predictable, rock music made by seasoned but complacent-sounding rockers. Thus, enjoying Head Carrier is mostly a matter of managing expectations.
Up until now, the reunited Pixies – who first got back together over a decade ago – have been pretty cautious with their new material. The series of EPs that awkwardly formed 2014’s comeback LP Indie Cindy represented a series of dips of their collective toe into the ocean, with fans still reeling from Kim Deal deciding to up sticks at the idea of returning to the studio. Head Carrier feels like a much bolder statement.
No reasonable listener expected the Pixies’ reunion album, 2014’s Indie Cindy, to sound like the same band from two decades earlier. Kim Deal had moved on, Black Francis had put out nearly 20 solo records in the interim, and eons in band years had passed. Even if time could be dialed back, why would a group of accomplished musicians pushing 50 want to chase down who they were as twentysomethings? The title track itself was a plea for their new songs to find favor among fans — an indirect admission from the band that they had indeed changed.
The Pixies weren’t the only band that blazed the trail for alternative rock’s mainstream takeover in the ’90s, but they were the rare band that got to be trailblazers twice. When they regrouped at Coachella in 2004 after an 11-year breakup, they effectively ushered in another musical phenomenon: the indie-icon reunion-tour circuit. It granted the Massachusetts misfits a long overdue opportunity to play for the sort of massive crowds that their famous fans—Nirvana, Radiohead, and Weezer among them—had built on their influence.
While it may be unfair to compare the modern Pixies with the band that called it quits in 1993, it's difficult not to do so when the reincarnation releases an album that does so little to carve new territory or remove itself from the shadow of past triumphs. Consequently, it's difficult not to dissect what went wrong and pine for the Pixies of old on Head Carrier, the band's second post-reunion album and first to be recorded with touring bassist Paz Lenchantin as a permanent member. Despite the new blood, there's very little material in this collection lively enough to earn a spot in the Pixies canon.The Pixies sound like a shadow of themselves throughout Head Carrier.
Nothing is ever easy with the Pixies, now on their second post-reunion album. Kim Deal has been replaced again, this time by bassist Paz Lenchantin (a decent enough fit). But now guitarist Joey Santiago is in rehab, putting all touring plans on hold. The silver lining is that Head Carrier feels slightly more assured than its predecessor, the godawfully titled and uneven Indie Cindy (2014, which compiled three EPs).
The re-formed Pixies of 2016 are a very different proposition to the manic, caterwauling outfit that burst forth in the late 1980s. Not only has the personnel altered significantly – bassist Kim Deal left the band in 2013, and her replacement Kim Shattuck was fired later that year – but there seems to have been a shift in outlook as well: in their latterday output they have seemed either unwilling or unable to summon up the sort of oddball energy that made them such a bewildering and brilliant prospect in the first place. Head Carrier continues down the cul-de-sac first entered on 2014’s lukewarm Indie Cindy, largely comprising chugging, artless alt rock.
Where do we even begin with Pixies? We know they laid the groundwork for every important grunge and alternative band who succeeded them, while they also notoriously called it quits after just a few years and four nearly-flawless albums. Now they're back with their second post-hiatus album, following the wholly underwhelming Indie Cindy. Head Carrier isn't any more inspiring, confirming our worst fears.
After 2014's largely disappointing Indie Cindy, indie-rock legends Pixies are back for another crack at trying to revitalise their careers with Head Carrier, their second post-reformation full length. Much fuss was made two years ago as to whether this vastly popular, inherently 'alternative' band really needed to make new material at the risk of diminishing their legacy. It was a failure, however, early hype here has promised an edgier return to form but when a band's par is as high as Pixies' that's no easy task.
In my formative years, I dabbled in a little Surfer Rosa. That album, its associate Come On Pilgrim, and the singles from Doolittle demarcate the beginnings and ends of my experience with Pixies. Which is to say, I’ve never really been too much of a fan. That glad fact makes me more qualified than most to write this necessary review.
And deeper we dig into the dirt. Don’t believe the anti-hype; despite the lack of Kim Deal, Pixies’ 2014 comeback ‘Indie Cindy’ was a worthy successor to their superlative first era, with its tales of witches, sea monsters, android queens and alien lovers. If that record seemed plucked, musically, from intergalactic radio signals beamed between 1990’s ‘Bossanova’ and 1991’s ‘Trompe Le Monde’, their second reunion album ‘Head Carrier’ treads further back, into the consecrated murk that was ‘Doolittle’ and ‘Surfer Rosa’.
Many bands have spent their lives trying to sound like the Pixies in their prime, always missing some fundamental aspect that made their heroes so great. But it’s somewhat jarring to hear the current incarnation of the Pixies seemingly doing this themselves. You can pretty easily trace each song on ‘Head Carrier’ to tracks from their heyday they’re trying to emulate (the most obvious example being ‘All I Think About Now’ in its hilariously brazen similarity to ‘Where Is My Mind?’).
There comes a moment, roughly three and half listens into Head Carrier, Pixies’ sixth studio album and the second since their reformation, that I start to wonder why I liked Pixies in the first place. That probably makes it sound like Head Carrier is an awful album. It isn’t. It is, in fact, a fairly decent one.
Let’s start here: The Pixies sound happy. Head Carrier is decidedly upbeat, with rousing choruses, bright harmonies, and a touch of earnest longing. Credit newly minted full-timer Paz Lenchantin: “She’s awesome,” enthuses guitarist Joey Santiago in the album’s press materials. “Now, everything is just so light, we’ve got lightness.” She signed on in 2014, and seems to have been instrumental in helping the band emerge from what they call the “transitional” state that birthed Indie Cindy, their much-maligned comeback record.
Try as they might to avoid it, there comes a point when the burning compulsion and creative vision of even the greatest artists quietly culminates in the equivalent of holding down a pretty sweet job. For a band that once burst forth with a feverish, era-defining marriage of mania, melody and musicianship, album number six sees one-time torchbearers Pixies retiring to a no-mans-land where headway and resolve are largely overshadowed by hesitant, half-baked mediocrity. Sadly, theirs might well be a textbook trajectory in point.But going into Head Carrier with anything more than a sliver of hope of it being vital will always result in galling disappointment.