Lets be honest, when it comes to alternative music in America, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Pixies; they practically invented that irresistible combination of scathing guitars, eloquent pop melodies and left field lyrics. The fact that ‘Head Carrier’ is their first proper album in 25 years and the first with contributions from new bassist Paz Lenchantin, 2014’s EP collection ‘Indie Cindie’ notwithstanding, means expectations are high.
So, does it deliver? Pretty much. Sure, it takes a few listens and is pretty smooth, not really venturing beyond the realms of Black Francis’ own off beat comfort zone, but it stacks up as fine a collection of indie sludge as you’re likely to hear.
The mid-paced rock groove of the title track kicks things off stylishly, it may not be a raging beast, but it’s dark vibe carries all the Pixies trademarks and it is certainly a grower. There are plenty of tracks which stay in safe indie pop territory and showcase the band’s ear for a melody, the hooky ‘Classic Masher’ and the eighties tinged storytelling of ‘Tenement Song’ both nailing it. However, some songs, although likeable, are a little bland, ‘Bel Esprit’ and ‘Might As Well Be Gone’ being notable examples.
The tracks that work best are those which take a step or two towards the leftfield; ‘Oona’ has a certain off beat charm, while ‘Baals Back’ harks back to angrier times as Francis screams his way through this abrasive rocker. Obvious stand outs are the nostalgic ode to Kim Deal, ‘All I Think About Now’, the blissful ‘All The Saints’ and the urgent rockabilly of ‘Um Chagga Lagga’, which is a stone cold classic.
Expecting a middle aged band to come up with a creatively compelling record as challenging as those from their early career is maybe a bridge too far. Even so, there is plenty of quality to ‘Head Carrier’ and it makes for a fine listen.
‘Head Carrier’ by Pixies is released on September 30th on Pixiesmusic/PIAS.
Words by Edward Layland (@EdwardLayland)