Album review: Pixies see a return to form in Head Carrier

It may have taken them a couple of years to get back into the studio groove, but in Head Carrier, the Pixies have an album that finally makes their return look like more than an exercise in getting paid.
From left, David Lovering, Paz Lenchantin, Joey Santiago and Black Francis of American indie-rock band Pixies. Photo by Travis Shinn
From left, David Lovering, Paz Lenchantin, Joey Santiago and Black Francis of American indie-rock band Pixies. Photo by Travis Shinn

Head Carrier

Pixies

(Pixiesmusic/PIAS)

Four stars

The Pixies’ occasionally inspired (and terribly titled) 2014 comeback Indie Cindy was their first new album for more than two decades – which, relatively speaking, makes Head Carrier akin to two buses turning up at once for the re-formed Boston alt-rock legends, who Kurt Cobain repeatedly referenced as a major influence on Nirvana.

Perhaps more importantly, this second record from Pixies v2.0 sees them revert to a stable four-piece line-up, with their female quota restored – A Perfect Circle/Zwan multi-instrumentalist Paz Lenchantin slots neatly into the singing-bassist role vacated by original member Kim Deal.

To those half-listening, she could almost be Deal at times, even on All I Think About Now, co-written by Lenchantin, which appears to assume the guise of a thank-you letter written to Deal.

It’s Lenchantin’s sugar-dusted melodies behind frontman Frank “Black Francis” Black’s idiosyncratic intonations that linger longest in the memory, though, reigniting the band’s classic sound, something that was rather lacking on Indie Cindy. In doing so, their creativity seems to have been similarly stoked.

A close second to their female-led past highlights, the Pixies of old were always at their best when an off-the-cuff atmosphere prevailed. That’s reprised on the semi-nonsensical first single Um Chagga Lagga, which dashes through three minutes of fuzzy indie-punk. Baals Back is 60 seconds shorter and a good deal shoutier, while Classic Masher takes a more tuneful trajectory but is still chock with throwaway quirkiness – as well as Black’s non-sequiturs and Joey Santiago’s trebly guitar trills.

Black moves away from abstractness on Talent, which could be read as an eye-rolling barb at the record industry. “I met this real cool dude today/ Looking like Jack Palance,” Black half-speaks, half-sings. “He said: ‘I wanna get through to you’/ ‘And help you find your talent.’”

Head Carrier finishes with a pinch of restraint: All the Saints lollops along at the pace of some of the Pixies’ formative late-1980s singles, such as Monkey Gone to Heaven, but with a world-weariness at odds with the rest of the record.

With the benefit of hindsight, Indie Cindy wasn’t nearly consistent enough to represent a triumphant return, especially considering the reunited band had been touring for several years before its inception.

It may have taken them a couple of years to get back into the studio groove, then, but in Head Carrier the Pixies have an album that finally makes their return look like more than an exercise in getting paid.

aworkman@thenational.ae

Published: September 25, 2016 04:00 AM

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