Pixies - Head Carrier (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Head Carrier (2016)

PIAS America

How many founding or key members can you remove from a band before they really shouldn’t be called by the same name anymore? The answer varies from band to band, and many bands have continued on long after fans have decided that too many key members have left to really justify keeping the project going. Mark Hoppus and Matt Skiba may compliment each other well, but without both Hoppus and Tom DeLonge, I don’t think you should be calling the band Blink-182. The Clash switched drummers after their first album, and again halfway through the recording of Combat Rock, and nobody said a word. However, when they tried to put out an album without Mick Jones, fans cried foul and complained that it wasn’t truly the Clash. And don’t even get me started on The Misfits. Yet, The Cure can replace every member except Robert Smith dozens of times over, and nobody minds that the band is still called The Cure. Like I said, the answer changes from one band to the next, but I think we all know what the answer is with the Pixies: any band that doesn’t have both Black Francis and Kim Deal is not truly The Pixies anymore. And yet, here we are with Head Carrier, the second album from a Pixies lineup that doesn’t contain Deal.

What Head Carrier has in lower supply than the classic Pixies albums is a sense of risk and radical innovation. There are elements of those early Pixies albums that still sound completely revolutionary today, even after multiple generations of artists have drawn from the Pixies as an influence. Head Carrier isn’t devoid of these moments, but it doesn’t have many of them. This is possibly because so many of the risks on 2014’s Indy Cindy didn't really work (except for “Bagboy, which was a great song). Head Carrier dials back some of the Pixies weirdness to focus more on their traditional pop songwriting abilities, making them sound more like the band that wrote “Here Comes Your Man” than the band that wrote “Tame.” Most of the time, they end up sounding like a slightly above average indie rock band that was inspired by the Pixies, and too many of the songs sound too conventional for what we know this band was once capable of.

“Classic Masher,” “Might as Well Be Gone,” “Oona,” and “Bel Espirit” are the high points of the album, but all work for largely the same reason: they all have pretty and slightly haunting melodies that make them sound like mediocre filler tracks from Doolittle. Meanwhile “Baal’s Back” falls into such a generic hard rock groove that it could be mistaken for an AC/DC song. The album's first three singles—“Um Chaga Lagga,” “Talent,” and “Tenement Song”—are weak choices to represent the album as a whole. The low point of the album comes in the song “All I Think About Now,” the first song to feature Kim Deal’s replacement, Paz Lenchantin, on lead vocals. The band has stated that Lenchantin wrote the music for the song, Black Francis asked her to sing lead vocals on it, she agreed but only if Francis wrote the lyrics, and Francis agreed only if Lenchantin told him what to write about. I’m frankly amazed that the band kept the tune that Lenchantin came up with for this song, as it is a blatant moment of Pixies’ self-plagiarism, sounding exactly like a sped up version of “Where is My Mind?” Lenchantin instructed Francis to write the song as a thank you letter to Kim Deal (I’m sure she appreciated that), and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Francis simply took credit for Lenchantin’s lyrics because, otherwise, they're Francis’s weakest lyrics to date.

If Head Carrier was a debut from a new band, I would call it promising. But this is the freaking Pixies, for Christ’s sake! The most iconic song of the 1990’s, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” was, by its creator’s own admission, a blatant attempt to rip off the Pixies. In fact, the entire development of 90’s alternative and indie rock owes itself to the Pixies. For such a legendary band, I expect something better than just “good enough.” For what it's worth, this is probably as good of an album as we could possibly get from a Deal-less version of the Pixies, but for most of us, that's not worth a hell of a lot.