“I bet you thought I was dead and gone”
Out with the old and in with the new. Pixies are back with a new CD, a new bassist and a newer sound. But can Black Francis and co still cut the mustard in 2016?
After all, it’s been nearly 30 years since they first formed, 23 since breaking up, 10 after reuniting, and two years after their poorly received comeback, Indie Cindy (2014).
Sure, you won’t find the foul-mouthed, frantic, eyeball-slicing Pixies of old here. Instead, Head Carrier ushers in a new, harmonious and reflective Pixies.
No more so than on the song, All I Think About Now, itself a thank-you letter to founding Pixie, Kim Deal, penned by Francis and sung by her replacement Paz Lenchantin (formerly of A Perfect Circle and Zwan). It’s a fond farewell and a warm welcome rolled into one: goodbye Kim, hello Paz.
“I try and think about tomorrow,
But I always think about the past,
About the things that didn’t last”
Opening with a deliberate reference to Where Is My Mind, the song is an upbeat tearjerker of a breakup song, particularly with its optimistic refrain: “remember when we were happy?”
Songs like Plaster of Paris, Bel Esprit or Oona continue the somewhat chirpy theme. There’s plenty of classic Pixies trademarks – Joey Santiago’s surf-riffs; his n’ hers vocals; Americana; psychedelic, surrealist lyrics – but with a focus on a lighter, more jubilant, side than you might expect.
In the case of the delicate All the Saints the mood is downright sorrowful. With the wistful line “wondering why I’m still here” the album’s closer sounds almost like a swansong.
So, where is the unhinged Black Francis – with those violent outbursts and famous screaming fits? He pops up once or twice: namely on the Smashing Pumpkins-like Baal’s Back and, latest single, Um Chagga Lagga – a delightfully deranged ode to roadside prostitution. But, really, how much tormented yelping do you want from a man in his early fifties? It can’t be good for the gullet.
What will the die-hards think? Of course, history hangs heavy for such a cult (and oft-imitated) band. Yes, there are softer edges. But to judge this album solely by past glories would be to ignore what is a solid, focused, if not entirely explosive, effort. Here’s to new beginnings.
Pixies will tour Head Carrier Down Under in March 2017