Everyone has ‘their’ band, that group of musicians that you discover growing up and immediately think ‘you can do THIS? This is allowed?’. For many, Pixies were that band. In a world dominated by homogeneous synth-pop which rolled off the Stock Aitken Waterman production line, the sound of Black Francis screaming and singing songs about losing his penis to a “whore with disease” was one of the most terrifying, yet exhilarating, sounds in the world.
In retrospect, like all great bands, the Pixies’ flame burned brightly but shortly. The Come On Pilgrim EP, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle were their masterpieces, never to be bettered. When they initially split up after 1991’s Trompe Le Monde, people had moved on to new shiny Nirvana-shaped things – but when Francis, Kim Deal, David Lovering and Joey Santiago reunited in 2004, they unlocked a whole wave of nostalgia that washed over people of a certain age.
Nostalgia, though, is dangerous. It stymies new ideas, it stops progress, it prevents people from looking forward as they’re too focused on how great things used to be. Which is why Pixies’ next move – to record some new music and re-establish themselves as a full-time working band – was such a brave one. Indie Cindy (the band’s first album for 23 years) wasn’t a particularly bad record. It was just a bit ordinary. And that, for a band with Pixies’ legacy, was unforgivable.
Part of the problem, of course, was the departure of Kim Deal – the tension between Deal and Francis which had produced so much brilliant music eventually proving insurmountable. Head Carrier is the second album from what we really should call Pixies v2.0, and although new bassist Paz Lanchantin is never going to properly replace Deal, there are signs that some of the old magic is beginning to click back.
For, while the Pixies are probably never going to make another record with the impact of Surfer Rosa, they can still sound almost impossibly exciting when they choose to. The best moments on Head Carrier are where the band explicitly reference their past: the crunchy, almost bone-crushing riff on the title riff, that famous guttural scream on Baal’s Back and, best of all, the fizzling energy of Um Chagga Lagga which genuinely stands alongside the best of their back catalogue.
There’s even a pretty touching tribute to Deal in the shape of All I Think About Now, which recycles the riff to Where Is My Mind and features Lanchantin cooing her best Gigantic-style ‘ooh-ooh’s as the song builds into a fearsome cacophony of noise. And tracks like Classic Masher and Might As Well Be Gone prove that the band haven’t lost their touch for a catchy chorus (the Pixies’ smart pop sensibility was always a huge part of their appeal).
Yet it’s impossible to shake off the feeling that something’s missing on Head Carrier – although there’s much to enjoy, there’s nothing that really raises the hairs on the back of the neck and too many run of the mill songs that just drift by – Plaster Of Paris and Bel Esprit are anonymous chuggers that could easily have been confined to B-sides of singles. It may be unfair to use the Pixies’ legacy against them, but that’s what happens when you’re one of the most seminal bands of the age.
Head Carrier is a far more coherent album than Indie Cindy though (hardly surprising, as the latter was effectively a group of EPs welded together) and while it may not be a record to inspire the generations as their previous work did, there’s enough evidence that some of that old spark is still flickering.