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When it comes to iconic artists getting the band back together, there’s a fine line between “reunited and it feels so good” and “the honeymoon is over, baby.” More often than not, that line is crossed when said act takes it upon themselves to place a new entry in what fans will invariably perceive as a spotless discography. The reunited Stooges put on remarkable live sets, but reviews for 2006’s The Weirdness and 2013’s Ready to Die were among the worst of their career. The Beach Boys sold out arenas all around the world on their 50th-anniversary tour but were wise to mostly exclude numbers from their mostly-cringeworthy 2012 LP That’s Why God Made the Radio. As far as the Pixies are concerned, they managed to get it twice as bad – a lot of fans took bassist Kim Deal’s departure to heart, and the response to 2014’s Indie Cindy was a mix of scathing judgement and complete indifference (which could be perceived as even worse).
We’re now three years removed from Deal’s departure and two from the string of EPs that ended up filling out Indie Cindy‘s tracklist. The shadow of Deal is still cast long – any comment section on the band’s Facebook will annoyingly attest to this – but enough time has passed for most to properly reconsider the notion of Pixies 2.0. It’s worth remembering, for one, that if Deal still wanted to be in the Pixies, she would still be in the Pixies. Whatever tensions were lingering in that immediate dynamic are now gone, which can only be a positive thing for both the rest of the band and for Deal herself as both camps move forward. Furthermore, the band found an exceptional replacement in A Perfect Circle/Zwan alum Paz Lenchantin; here making her debut as a full-time member. Whatever uncertainties and transitional period awkwardness that lingered on Indie Cindy has been deftly swept away in favour of a refreshing confidence and energy – at long last, Head Carrier is an album that can serve as an exception to the aforementioned rule.
Before you leap at your keyboard, an admission: We’re not dealing with an instant classic, a la Doolittle or Surfer Rosa here. If you’re coming into Head Carrier with that weight of expectation then you should strongly consider recalibrating before proceeding. For the rest of us, there’s plenty to enjoy about the Pixies’ sixth LP – smartly arranged, succinct at a tight 33 minutes and a timely reminder of what made the band a unique and engaging investment to begin with. There’s volatile proto-punk catharsis on the screeching Baal’s Back and the rollicking Um Chagga Lagga, paired with knowing contrast to the likes of the Crazy Horse jam session in the title track and the precision march of Oona. Lenchantin knows all too well of the shoes she is filling – hell, her lead vocal debut All I Think About Now is a Black Francis-penned ode to Deal – but she is not interested whatsoever in being sidelined or remaining anonymous. Head Carrier sees her finding a place amidst the towering guitar of Joey Santiago, the confident riding drums of David Lovering and the inimitable eccentricities of Francis.
Perhaps the strongest trait of Head Carrier is its lack of reservations. Indie Cindy was, for lack of a better phrase, a reboot of the proverbial franchise. It leaned in on safe territory for the band, but at times did that to a fault. Head Carrier reminds the band that it was not a success in the first place not taking any kind of risk or remaining within a comfort zone. It’s a back-to-basics record, but it’s also not a paint-by-numbers record. It’s an album that strikes a balance with means to make progress – an album to show there is life beyond the reunion tour, as long as you play your cards right. Deal or no Deal, the Pixies are here to stay. Don’t be the last one with your back against the wall.
‘Head Carrier’ is out now.