Friday, October 7, 2016

Pixies - Head Carrier Review

The comeback record is always a risky endeavor. Success stories like The Avalanches' Wildflower, Portishead's Third, or My Bloody Valentine's MBV are a dime a dozen when compared to the litany of comebacks that failed to make an impact, or worse, damaged an artist's highly-regarded reputation. In 2014, the Pixies, acclaimed Alt-Rock linchpin, learned this the hard way when their grand return, split over three EP's collectively known as Indie Cindy, critically flopped. An asterisk now loomed over their immaculate four-album run from 1988-1991, so, despite their reemergence, without Kim Deal of course, the new age Pixies were not met with much fanfare. Rather than quietly recede into the shadows, something that would've been uncharacteristic for frontman Black Francis, the group launched an attempt at redemption. However, Head Carrier, the group's latest affair, seems even less concerned with the events of the past, stumbling down the same rituals brought on by Indie Cindy. Nearly three decades removed from their origin story, the Pixies have aged, twisting their forever-blasé attitude on its head, keeping the carelessness while adding a wholly conservative stance. Head Carrier confirms many of our worst fears; the Pixies are past their prime, failing to heed warnings to hang it up.

It's a hard thing to witness former greats fall on tough times. Being relatively young, these experiences haven't hit me all too often yet. The latest affair for me was 2015's Strangers To Ourselves, where Modest Mouse, Indie legends who sported ideas of adolescent rebellion, midwest emo beliefs, and adventurous song structures, floundered with vintage dad rock that harped on tired cliches whilst lacking any drive, despite returning after an eight-year hiatus. The Pixies may, by and large, be in the same scenario, arguably even more so, as the fearless Rock mutiny they exhibited as early twenty something's will never feel right sung by aging, settled down conventionalists. Even if the topics have changed, three of the four original Pixies members are still present, meaning their identity will always be tied to the past. On Head Carrier, this constant establishment of what once was hurts what little chance the LP had. Francis, Lovering, Santiago, and now Lenchantin, uphold the main supports carrying the Pixies, both the nonchalance and the fun for fun's sake, but there's a clear, constant, and pressing mediocrity filling Head Carrier. They're not musicians gone rogue, but more so ones abiding by normality.

Head Carrier, much like the Pixies' entire discography, contains a dozen quick, off-kilter ideas that disguise themselves as soft Pop Rock diddy's. Sure, there are noisy moments where Francis rears back vocally to his glory days, like on 'Um Chagga Lagga' and 'Baal's Back,' which actually showcase more dexterity than he ever presented on Indie Cindy, but just as equally are cases like 'Classic Masher' or 'Oona' that see him echo back to his solo work with similar falsettos. Never do the two cross paths, something that was always a selling point for the youthful Francis. Another early Pixies trademark was inescapably poignant, clever, and mysterious lyricism, all of which has been evaporated here. On a multitude of tracks, 'Oona,' Bel Esprit,' and 'Tenement Song' just to name a few, Francis' songwriting is painfully one-dimensional, lacking any intrigue, background, or wittiness. At its best, Head Carrier works off the melodies rather than the lyrics, two things that were treated equally in the Pixies' early work. It's a relief then that the final two songs, 'Plaster Of Paris' and 'All The Saints,' follow this idea and cap Head Carrier off on good terms, using lighter melodies that side closer with the Bossanova-era than their earlier Noise Rock endeavors.

In 2016, years removed from both the Pixies' critical height and the ensuing wave they kickstarted, it seems a bit odd to curate music aesthetically similar to it, which is why those final two, and elements of 'Head Carrier' and 'Might As Well Be Gone,' succeed the most thanks to their deceptively painless and relaxed mood. Much like your gaggle of Hard Rock geezers churning out what can essentially amount to novelty releases, new age Pixies just sound wrong when compelled to be edgy. The only exception to this is 'Baal's Back,' which is quite wild, even for some old men. The others teeter over a not-so-steep cliff; safe but perceived as daring. 'Talent' follows this formula, as does 'Classic Masher,' which is so cautious it's laughable. That's without mentioning 'Bel Esprit,' which, sonically, isn't too offensive, but the lyrics go out of their way to not cooperate. "She thinks he has no soul, cause he never learned to crawl," Francis and Lenchantin sing in duet. This moment, and the others mentioned above, give off a slight but visual Wiggles comparison. That's right, there are tracks on here that sound like slightly more aggressive Disney sing-a-longs.

Slight digression, but one can't go without mentioning the absolute abomination that is 'All I Think About Now.' Stunning to me that Francis, or any member, allowed that riff, that iconic 'Where Is My Mind?' riff, to make it past the brainstorming process, yet alone on the official album. Worse yet, the entire song contains piss poor lyrics about time slipping away sung by Lenchantin, who stumbles over Santiago and Lovering stumbling behind her. A mess of a song that, on an album so pedestrian, stands to be the most noteworthy thing about it. Head Carrier never reaches that low again, but it's still defined by these weathered moments, whether they lie in the lyrics, Francis' vocals, or the production. You can just tell the Pixies are old. Throughout the entire LP, Santiago and Lovering are completely withdrawn, resorting to played out chords and drum processions that don't attempt to be anything but middle of the road. I imagine Head Carrier as a parent going through a midlife crisis, acting adventurous whilst performing badass stunts that kids would laugh at for being so tame. And the only time I wanna hear the word tame be associated with the Pixies is when Francis is screaming it by pulling his lungs out.

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