Music Reviews
Head Carrier

Pixies Head Carrier

(PIAS/Pixies) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

It’s understandable to be concerned about the Pixies’ recent creative pursuits. The longstanding college rockers have a robust discography with a knack for surrealistic expression that immediately distinguished them from their peers. But if you take that away, you’re pretty much left with a collective unit that always upheld a promise to keep their songs fairly straightforward despite the occasional need to write songs with overtly mischievous motifs. An album like Surfer Rosa was simply a product of great timing, an oddball classic that stood out against the instant oatmeal-microwaved synth and pop metal that dominated the charts during the late eighties.

Head Carrier doesn’t have the slightest resemblance to Surfer Rosa, or Doolittle for that matter, a period of spotless creativity that continues to haunt their every step. But it sure has a lot in common with the more abrasive bitterness of Trompe Le Monde, and you know what, that’s a pretty great album on its own right, too. There’s a need to always take into account how weird a Pixies record has to sound like to somehow gauge their worth, and they do try: Um Chagga Lagga is an odd paranoid rocker that invokes some mind-bendy head trip through some American frontier action sequence. Same goes for the utterly berserk Baal’s Back, a two-minute scorcher that brings back some of that unforgiving punk flair. At worse, Black Francis shrieks like an exhausted Dave Grohl, but it’s still a riot.

Nevertheless, some of Head Carrier’s more resounding moments imply a need to write sturdy, no-frills pop hooks. The sleek Classic Masher is almost insultingly conventional in design, where Francis tries out an agreeable chorus that holds no surprises; same goes for the jangly Plaster of Paris, which has more in common with the rambunctious lightheartedness of a The Clean song than it does their grunge-inspired peers. But do not fret - the sharp riffing of Oona has some of Joey Santiago’s signature suspended distortion, with those same guitar nuances and indecipherably odd lyrics. Some missteps are painfully obvious, like All I Think of Now, a sweet and genuine ode to Kim Deal (sung by replacement Paz Lenchantin) that unfortunately remodels the all-too-familiar Where Is My Mind? riff with a familiar arrangement that is too close for comfort.

Head Carrier is a relatively more mellowed out take on the Pixies’ long history, one that jettisons some of that urgency to fit in some of the sparer songwriting of Francis's post-Elektra solo career. But there’s also a notable compromise at play here between all band members, as they do also carry forth those biting urges of years past with capable ease. It wouldn’t hurt to mention that it’s a vast improvement over the botched songwriting of Indie Cindy. So the latest iteration of Pixies is, well, a little bit less weird, and that shouldn’t be a surprise coming from a band who’s been struggling to keep it together, and quite humorlessly so, for thirty years. It’s not Pixies as you’d like to remember them, but for the first time in years it sounds as if they’re actually enjoying themselves. It’s a beefy and assured, though slightly indifferent, response to those who continue to assume they could ever meet their lofty expectations.