Published Sep 28, 2016While it may be unfair to compare the modern Pixies with the band that called it quits in 1993, it's difficult not to do so when the reincarnation releases an album that does so little to carve new territory or remove itself from the shadow of past triumphs. Consequently, it's difficult not to dissect what went wrong and pine for the Pixies of old on Head Carrier, the band's second post-reunion album and first to be recorded with touring bassist Paz Lenchantin as a permanent member. Despite the new blood, there's very little material in this collection lively enough to earn a spot in the Pixies canon.
The Pixies sound like a shadow of themselves throughout Head Carrier. Where previous work like Surfer Rosa and Come on Pilgrim prodded listeners with sparse but poignant lyrics, Head Carrier's jottings feel uninspired; they fit a rhyme scheme, but that's about it. New bassist Paz Lenchantin does a fantastic job replicating Kim Deal's backing presence, but her lead vocal offering, "All I Think About Now," is perhaps the biggest lyrical offender, cooing lacklustre sentiments such as "I try to think about tomorrow / but I always think about the past / 'bout the things I didn't ask / If I could go to the beginning/ I know for sure I'd be another way."
There's no edge here. Black Francis' vocals lack the bite that made listeners' hair stand up on Doolittle tracks like "Crackity Jones," and when he reaches for that same voracity on "Baals Back," it sounds strained; his idiosyncratic style feels over-animated where he once seemed genuinely unhinged. That goes for most of Head Carrier, too. With the exception of steely Joey Santiago's riffs, the album feels dulled down, even if all the requisite component Pixies parts are there.
There are bright spots. On single "Um Chagga Lagga," the pace is animated and the band sound like a chaotic machine worthy of their esteemed reputation; Francis' bottled frustration, in particular, finally bursts through.
Maybe it was the unusual and luxurious six-week pre-recording period afforded to the band that tempers the album and takes off the edge; maybe their past work thrived on chaos. Either way, Head Carrier sounds far more restrained and lifeless than it should be. (Pixiesmusic/PIAS)