Everyone loves the Pixies. They’re just one of those bands. Their early discography inspires so much enduring affection that it really doesn’t matter how good Head Carrier, their new album, is. The record will do well, 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 new 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 compilation of their three recently released EPs, and partly because it didn’t really sound like the Pixies. Despite this, everybody still loved them. Because everyone loves the Pixies.
For most people, this goodwill relates to the output from the band’s late-eighties heyday. The Pixies’ first two albums, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle (along with their debut mini-LP, Come On Pilgrim) are among the most thrilling, memorable and influential alternative rock records of all time, featuring enduring classics like 'Monkey Gone To Heaven', 'Gigantic' and 'Where Is My Mind'?
Differences within the band, particularly between frontman Black Francis and bass player/vocalist Kim Deal, famously led to its demise in the early-nineties, after they’d released two more excellent, but less beloved albums, Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde.
Always more popular in Europe than in their native US, the band’s reputation in their homeland 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 the new material that became Indie Cindy was recorded.
Paz Lenchantin is the charismatic new permanent 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. Her presence seems to have revitalised the band.
A strong female voice and understated basslines were always key elements of the Pixies’ appeal and other classic Pixies traits have returned for this album. Their trademark loud/quiet/loud dynamics are used throughout, notably on 'Tenement Song' and on the excellent, unconventional love song 'Oona', which also features characteristic violent imagery (“Oona, I will await destruction”). There are typical skewed pop songs like 'Classic Masher' and 'Bel Esprit', a track which also benefits from the soaring harmonies between Francis and Lenchantin, who even gets a solo song, 'All I Think About Now', the introduction of 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 also features a classic Joey Santiago guitar solo. The downbeat 'All The Saints' includes a wobbly surf guitar that would have fit snugly onto their underrated 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”. Altogether these traits, along with the scintillating chemistry of the new line-up and the high quality of the songs mean that Head Carrier really sounds like the Pixies should.
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 alike. 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, which is way above what most bands are capable of. 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. Even more reasons to love them.