Sound — 6
Moving slowly but surely, Pixies finally getting back to recording new music after reuniting almost a decade ago was a much-anticipated prospect being cheered on by the legion of fans who still thought of classic records like "Surfer Rosa" and "Doolittle" as the best alt-rock albums of all time. Though Kim Deal left before the band really got back into the studio (therefore quashing the opportunity for a comeback album also being a fairy-tale reconciliation between her and Black Francis), Pixies continued on, incrementally releasing a trilogy EP series, then combining it to serve as their official comeback album, "Indie Cindy," in 2014. However, the building hype for this returning album may have set the bar too high, and the album's reception was divided into those who loyally loved it like any other Pixies album, and those who thought it to be a clambering mess.
Now bringing forth their sixth album, "Head Carrier," Pixies rein things back to the familiar formulas of their classic work, for better or for worse. While rinsing their signature quiet-to-loud songwriting is nothing unexpected, things generally feel more gritty and less polished compared to "Indie Cindy," heard most directly in the unkempt distortion of the opening titular song and "Baal's Back," but also keeping gentler alt-rock cuts like "Might as Well Be Gone" and the closing "All the Saints" from being too saccharine. The other big effort to rehash the past is the growing role of bassist/vocalist Paz Lenchantin singing along with Francis in "Classic Masher," "Talent" and "Bel Esprit" - while it could never one-up the original pairing of Francis and Deal, it's a formidable dual vocal force nevertheless.
With these clear appeals back to the golden era of Pixies, some moments come off too deliberate in their emulation to feel kosher. Attempting to recreate the noisier, devil-may-care qualities of their early material, the tremolo riffing in "Tenement Song" comes off more calculated that impulsive, and Francis' oddball singing moments in the rough-and-tumble "Um Chagga Lagga" feels silly rather than bold. But the most direct effort to bank on the past is in "All I Think About Now," which wields a guitar melody intentionally similar to "Where Is My Mind?" Though this song is equally noteworthy for showcasing Lenchantin as the lead (and sole) vocalist, its choice to tie itself to the band's flagship song in such a blatant way leaves the impression that the Pixies wish to rehash the past is much too desperate.
Lyrics — 7
Francis works in a number of Christian-based symbolism and references in his lyrics throughout "Head Carrier." With allusions to Jesus' tomb in "Bel Esprit" ("He rolled away the stone / With a plastic crucifix") and more direct talk about one of the princes of Hell in the darker "Baal's Back" ("People, when the sky is turning black / You'll know that it's me"), the biggest reference Francis uses is the cephalophore, which is the myth of the saint holding his own detached head, still able to preach despite being decapitated. The titular song specifically refers to the legend of Saint Denis walking miles with his own head after his execution ("Up to the hill to have him killed / And he still didn't die / Talked a while and walked six miles / Down to the riverside"), though the term also pops up in "Plaster of Paris" ("Last line of the cephalophore / I'll be the son of a son of a son of a bastard") and the theme of saints continues in the following "All the Saints" ("From this world they were torn / From their seed I was born").
Beyond this theme, however, Francis makes a special and personal outpouring to Kim Deal in the nostalgia-waxing "All I Think About Now." Though he sings no word on the song, his lyrics are meant to be a letter to Deal, expressing regret of how the decades made a rift between them ("If I could go to the beginning / I would be another way / Make it better for today"), as well as reflecting on the good times they shared, ultimately thanking her for those moments ("I remember we were happy / That's all I think about now / If you have any doubt / I want to thank you anyhow").
Overall Impression — 6
The letdown that was voiced in the reception of "Indie Cindy" was a risk that always comes with the territory of an iconic band's return - a comeback album that feels too unlike what that band is best known for is doomed to be rebuked. It's that reason that most likely shaped the more back-to-form effort that "Head Carrier" makes, and though moments in it do indeed feel like they're tracing back the steps made in their classic records, the album still succeeds in being another round of Pixies-brand alt-rock.