Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
One supremely cool thing about the Pixies these days is that, by now, their entire back-catalog (’87-’91) is considered timeless material. It’s almost fetishized in light of the less impactful trio of EPs that formed 2014’s Indie Cindy, the Boston-based quartet’s long-awaited follow-up to 1991’s Trompe Le Monde and first album recorded without original bassist Kim Deal. Where those tunes lacked seminal spark, Head Carrier is trusty yet imaginative without pretense, bursting with newfound self-assuredness bolstered by decades of experience.
Familiar elements – Black Francis’ unrivalled vocal battering ram, Joey Santiago’s jarring yet catchy guitar leads, David Lovering’s precise beats, and the angelic vocal juxtaposition provided by new bassist Paz Lenchantin – culminate into distinct yet varied styles: sunny, wistful songs (“Might As Well Be Gone,“ “Plaster Of Paris”), buoyant, beguiling surefire hits (“Talent” and “Tenement Song”), introspective ballads (“All The Saints”) and incendiary, often satisfyingly snarky punk-fueled forays (“Baals Back” & “Um Chagga Lagga”). Though sonically unmistakable, characteristic heft from producer Tom Dalgety (Royal Blood, Opeth, Band of Skulls) lends the album superb new swagger – it’s the natural next chapter in the band’s ever-influential canon.
The 12-song collection is likewise a keeper because it re-embraces the resplendent interplay between masculine and feminine signatures, somewhat lost on Indie Cindy. Those emerge masterfully here with constant collaboration with Lenchantin, whose presence is frequent and forthright – her indispensible role is confirmed with a turn as frontwoman on “All I Think About Now.”
That co-written cut is described candidly by Francis as a tribute to Deal – “Remember when we were happy?/ If I’m late can I thank you now?” – yet it also works as a universal lover’s lament. Within those dual contexts, it’s the album’s centerpiece and conceptual crux: just as the silver lining of a painful past romance finally put to rest is a liberated, wisened perspective, Pixies’ full acceptance of the shifts in their schema only further solidify their inimitable identity. The exultant result: Head Carrier, a new classic.
Stream the album at NPR.