Thirty years since they formed, the Pixies release their sixth album proper, the second since reforming in 2004 and the first since then recorded as an album (2014’s ‘Indie Cindy’ was a collection of EP’s). Despite the stop and slow start nature of their career trajectory there is still a flow to their recordings, not least visibly as British designer Vaughan Oliver heads the design of their releases still. And there is a flow in the music too.
Still nurturing the bass heavy beats and highly influential style of indie rock that they did all those years ago, ‘Head Carrier’ opens with its title track which could have been lifted from almost any point of their recording life. Lyrically not as dense as earlier songs this still manages to carry off being a song about a guy who is beheaded by a three headed monster but who then carries his head six miles down to the river before dying. ‘Classic Masher’ attempts to be just that, it’s a foot stomper with a much simpler lyric and though original bassist Kim Deal has departed, replacement Paz Lenchantin reproduces her style and backing vocal ability easily (the Pixies only do female bassists with ebullient childlike backing vocals). ‘Baal’s Back’ is much more screamy Pixies, and to me is all the better for it. The Pixies have always stood out more when at their most challenging and noisy, but this soon gives way to the more ordered ‘Might As Well Be Gone’, promising a classic Pixies quiet loud quiet ploy however it stays quiet (well melodic anyway) even as the chorus kicks in. ‘Oona’ channels its inner ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ vibe carrying it off very nicely and underlines the intent of the band to try and outperform their own best, 1989’s ‘Doolittle’. They don’t carry it off it has to be said, but this collection sits there at least with the two albums that followed ‘Doolittle’ as the original incarnation never really managed to surpass that albums promise. ‘Talent’ is again more formula Pixies, it’s OK but it’s not standout.
The albums second half (side two?) kicks off with ‘Tenement Song’ and is the most mildly paced bit of music here so far. Like many of the songs so far it’s a piece of music about music, again, it’s not bad, but it doesn’t smell of classic either. And so it is with ‘Bel Esprit’. ‘All I Think About Now’ is the song that most steals from the band past here, which says something as its sung by the bands newest member and is basically a thank you letter to founding member Kim Deal. It’s a lovely tribute, and an album highlight. As is ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ the albums lead single. When I first heard this back in July I was little (shrug of the shoulders’ ‘OK…?’, but this track has grown on me, it’s a bit more mindless, heads down boogie, and benefits from not being overthought. The album reels to a rapid close with ‘Plaster of Paris’ and ‘All The Saints’. One a sprightly pop song and the other an interesting half song. And after 34 minutes the album is over. It doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, and in that sense it is a proper album in the classic sense of the art form.
On first listen, I was a little underwhelmed by ‘Head Carrier’, there seemed to be not enough memorable about it, and the band seemed too self-referential. A couple of listens later and without concentrating on it fully there seemed to be an approachable easy feel to things, the hooks were coming through. Sitting down and listening to it properly again I’m certainly more appreciative than I was on first listen. Though for me, ‘Indie Cindy’, the album that wasn’t an album was more the sound of a band pushing themselves to be relevant far more than ‘Head Carrier’ is, it’s still good, but not career defining and not the masterpiece that many long-time Pixies fans would’ve hoped for, not even really paving the way for a masterpiece next time out. But that is the joy and unpredictability of music, who’s to say that Pixies album number seven won’t be chock full of great tunes and crazy words? Here’s hoping.