Grunge godfathers The Pixies have through their career had to reckon with the expectations of a fanbase at once rabidly loyal and supremely judgemental. Bossanova in 1990 was heralded as the desperate flailings of a group in terminal decline (it’s true, kids — Pixies fans HATED Bossanova when it came out). More vitriolic yet was the backlash against 1991’s Trompe le Monde, which scandalously deployed keyboards and relatively sophisticated studio arrangements.
Yet both were rehabilitated as classics within a few years (Trompe le Monde is Dave Grohl’s favourite album). It’s not unthinkable that a similar reappraisal may eventually be due to Head Carrier, which, a week out from its release, has already been dismissed as a pallid pastiche of Black Francis and company’s glory years.
And it’s true: much of the LP — the second collection of new material since the Pixies reformed in 2004 — sounds like musicians playing spot the references with their own catalogue.
There is, for instance, a whiff of Bossanova’s ‘Rock Music’ on the the title track while ‘Classic Masher’ could have slipped between ‘Dig For Fire’ and ‘Down to the Well’ on the same LP. The ghost of fan favourite ‘Gigantic’ is elsewhere conjured on ‘All I Think About Now’, a lament for departed bass player Kim Deal, with an appropriately Deal-esque vocal from her successor Paz Lenchantin.
Throughout Francis delivers his lines in a familiar shrapnel yelp, with Joey Santiago’s melodic guitars applying the Pixies’ patented bubblegum sheen. Rarely have a group slogged so ardently to sound like their younger selves. The question the record ultimately raises is whether it is acceptable for a ‘classic’ band to shamelessly raid its own catalogue. In ripping themselves off, perhaps the Pixies have offered irrefutable evidence of their bankruptcy as songwriters.
Or maybe they’ve just made a great rock album. Your response to Head Carrier will depend on whether you want to scrutinise it as art or just slap it on and crank the volume up.