Between 1987 and 1991, the Pixies brought us some of the most iconic punk records of all time. Influencing bands like Nirvana, The Strokes and even Radiohead, their signature jangly riffs and thudding power chords work with frontman Black Francis’ vocals to cement an inimitable “Pixies” algorithm. They might have fluctuated stylistically throughout the years but with such identifiable characteristics they’ve always maintained a warm spot in our hearts. Their latest album Head Carrier nurtures the ears of old fans with familiar elements but also holds our hands and lures us into different places at the same time.
Listeners often become enamoured by a specific sonic formula and scrunch their nostrils at anything that sways from that style. Authenticity is a hard thing to maintain when you began as a group of college dropouts jamming in a warehouse and end up onstage as suit-clad 50-year-olds literally sweating money. Plus, no one really knows what the fuck “authenticity” even means anyway.
If you didn’t get your vitamin D this morning there is no need to stress because Head Carrier is literally beaming with sunshine. The walking bass line in Plaster Of Paris makes the song weirdly reminiscent of a less obnoxiously upbeat The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. There’s even a bit of Lou Reed coming through in the opening verse. Between its hilarious lyrics about people resembling praying mantis’ and reverberating surf riffs, it’s as if Black Francis is saying “be happy, life is great. Or whatever, I don’t care. I’m going to the beach.” The track is essentially a crystallised reflection of the entire album. They are taking risks but serving it to listeners on a plate of familiarity.
The repeated line in the chorus from the title track “I’m going down the drain again” almost resembles a washed up ’70s rock band. There’s a similar feel from Tenement Song as well. It doesn’t blatantly resemble Neil Young, a notion that would be almost offensive to both parties, but seriously, if Neil had opted for electric guitars on Needle and The Damage Done it would sound like Tenement Song.
Right when your mind starts conjuring images of Joey Santiago leaning over his wheelchair to hand Black Francis a cup of Earl Grey, Um Chagga Lagga shatters your eardrums and you let out a sigh of relief. Hearing this song I was immediately transported into the future, right at the front of the crowd at a Pixies show amidst a sea of old dads and young punks, all chanting “Um Chagga Lagga at the side of the road!” in beer-slurred unity. This is my favourite track by far, it propels lightning bolts of energy in every direction.
Overall the album is balanced with the kind of finesse that could only be achieved by pure proto-punk genius. The Pixies have dipped their wrinkled little toes in a buttload of different genres on Head Carrier and have absolutely nailed it. You will with almost certainty overhear snippets of this blaring from a few 1992 Holden Barinas cruising to the coast.
And that’s how you know you’ve really made it.
Image: We Need Fun