I bloody love the Pixies. They’ve been one of my favourite bands since I first heard Bone Machine; before my balls had even dropped. To this day I consider their performance at 2005’s Leeds/Reading festival my finest live event. To their hordes of vocal admirers, they carry around an enormous legacy everywhere they go. It’s probably this pressure that has kept their back catalogue compressed and minimal over the years. Indeed, even with their lengthy hiatus, you’d have expected more than six LPs from a band with the stature and history that the Pixies enjoy. For me, this has always given them a mystique that greatly adds to their presence.
Unfortunately, the release of 2014’s Indie Cindy would peel away at that mystique somewhat. It was a mostly poor album from musicians apparently frightened of their previous power. Of course, it didn’t help that Kim Deal’s departure took away some of the bite either. While it had some truly awesome tracks, its stodgy filler was beneath the Pixies I knew. As such, I watched the introduction of their new permanent bassist, Paz Lenchantin, with great intrigue. When they released Head Carrier at the end of last year, it was with some trepidation that I approached it.
Like a lot of good Pixies albums, it’s something that didn’t quite blow me away when I first heard it. However, that’s something it has in common with the greatest of their work (Doolittle, Bossanova). Black Francis’ songwriting and the angular arrangements that come with it always take a bit of digestion. Knowing that fact well, it was also clear on my debut listen just how much the material could grow and evolve in my head. That potential is blatantly obvious throughout, and it’s something that multiple listens has genuinely brought out. In a way, that’s how a Pixies album should go for me.
On my second listen, I could instantly recognise the better songs. Thankfully, as I predicted, they began to take the shape and form I had hoped. In the end, the image it rests on is that of a wizened band reinvigorated by fresh blood. It’s a refreshing listen after its uninspired predecessor. One word that sticks in your mind when hearing the songs within is “classic”. It’s undeniably Pixies, and it doesn’t sound like they’re trying too hard either. What really makes Head Carrier more than a faithful pastiche of a once influential band is the new life Lenchantin is clearly bringing to the table.
That subtle evolution and step forward is what makes me really like this album, even if some of its choruses are a bit grating. They’re not resting on laurels and, when Francis screams his distinctive wail, it doesn’t feel insincere. Instead, a sense of the natural pokes into every corner of Head Carrier. There’s just enough of the old for it to fit comfortably and respectfully in their catalogue, with new tinges in equal measure preventing any possible redundancy. Discounting Indie Cindy, which sticks out like a sore cock, this would actually make for a fantastic follow-up to 1991’s Trompe le Monde.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, but very few albums are. What’s remarkable is just how well it does sit beside their historic achievements, which is saying something. Since it’s been generally received very well, I can only hope that inspires Pixies to stay on this track. It’s clearly working for them, and Francis certainly has a fair few great guitar tracks to feed us before they call it a day definitively. Lenchantin sounds like she’s had a nice little influence on things too, and she’s got a lot more to offer in years to come. It’s nice to know that a band I thought had lost “it” can so easily get it back. With a great new bassist in tow, it’s a relief to hear Pixies making up for their once lacklustre return.