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Pixies - Head Carrier (Album Review)

Tuesday, 04 October 2016 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Replacing long-standing bassist and backing vocalist Kim Deal with someone else called Kim (in this instance Kim Shattuck, leader of LA punks the Muffs) was, on the Pixies’ behalf, perhaps a bit silly. Maybe they hoped we wouldn’t notice? Anyway, the alt-rock legends are back with their sixth LP (or fifth, depending on how you view the ‘Indie Cindy’ collection) and have roped in Paz Lenchantin, of A Perfect Circle fame, to fill Deal's boots on ‘Head Carrier’.

And it works. Kind of. The Pixies’ most powerful weapon was always the interchange, the ragged push and pull between Deal and Black Francis. Here, on the neutered Springsteen worship of Classic Masher and Might As Well, the vocalists’ trade-offs are sweet enough but lack the angular, oddball dichotomy you were always guaranteed in the past.

The second half of ‘Head Carrier’ has Lenchantin etching her name into the later chapters of Pixies folklore, mind. Bel Esprit’s childish, playground clapping is complemented by her alternating lines with Francis, while an obvious allusion to Where Is My Mind? on All I Think About Now’s riff is trumped by the bassist’s charming yearning: “I remember we were happy, that’s all I think about now.”

Lenchantin proves to be the most divisive and cohesive component on ‘Head Carrier’. She is a constant reminder that Deal’s no longer a Pixie, but also proves that the band can thrive without her.

Elsewhere, Pixies mine their early works with mixed results. There are some full-throated, pant-soiling screams from Francis on Baal’s Back, harking back to the rage of River Euphrates or Something Against You, albeit less barbed. The surf rock leanings of ‘Bossanova’, meanwhile, are answered with Um Chagga Lagga’s rockabilly ridiculousness. Francis goes full Gibby Haynes, delivering the quip “standing tall in the rows of corn” as though he spent the entire Pixies hiatus on a ranch in the deep, deep south.

The way in which Francis squashes the album title into, like, two syllables is also commendable, as is the majority of the record itself. After all, this is a band that has to live with the expectations amassed by albums like ‘Surfer Rosa’ and ‘Doolittle’, not to mention Nirvana stealing their loud/quiet dynamic. This trademark structure is seldom used here, but it is represented in the flow of the tracks. For every Um Chagga Lagga or Baal’s Back, there’s a forgettable Oona or Plaster Of Paris to inject a middle-aged plod into proceedings.

Still, with all eyes on them and plenty of people willing them to fail, they’ve delivered half an hour of pop songs that range from effective in their execution to, well, those that aren't. But we have a new Pixies record and, as All The Saints’ “na na na na” fades out, that’s better than nothing.

Pixies Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon November 28 2016 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Tue November 29 2016 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Wed November 30 2016 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Fri December 02 2016 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Sat December 03 2016 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Sun December 04 2016 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Tue December 06 2016 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Wed December 07 2016 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena
Thu December 08 2016 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham

Click here to compare & buy Pixies Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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