**** out of *****was a mixed bag, and safe to say, a let down to most fans. While not as awful as some would be lead to believe, it was not up to the standards of the bands pristine back catalog. With the departure of Kim Deal and the general aging of the group they seemed to have left their best efforts back in the late 80's early 90's. Then out comes, Head Carrier and it simply is an album that demands to be noticed.
While the band has clearly gone back to their strong formula, main song writer Black Francis seems to be inspired again and inspiration comes from the strangest places as Saint Denis of Paris has two songs about him on the album including the opening title track. Feedback and clean upbeat riffs engage in a tug of war as the song roles out. Not a shocking track, but the energy kicks up mightily for "Classic Masher" within 30 seconds all the positive Pixie attributes shine; powerful drums from David Lovering, shining leads from Joey Santiago, a swaggering Francis and gorgeous female backing vocals from new bassist Paz Lenchantin.
Lenchantin's vocals are everywhere and perhaps even prettier than Deal's (blapshemy perhaps, but perhaps also the truth) as the duet of "Bel Espirt" is a joy when she goes toe to toe with Francis, before taking over the lead for "All I Think About Now". This is the most interesting track here, written for Deal (by both Francis and Lenchantin) it contains an almost identical riff to "Where Is My Mind?", recalling the bands strongest work could be seen as a weak attempt at capturing their past but in context the track works with a mix restraint, defiance and a wishful future. The retro looking lyrics can clearly be only about this band, but they rise above as the track progresses and Lenchantin sings even more confidently while the group tightens into a roaring pack of wolves. She will always be compared to Deal, but here Paz has made her strong claim within the group.
The aggression (lacking for most of Indie Cindy) gets a jolt via the scalding "Baal's Back" which finds Francis in throat ripping form and "Um Chagga Lagga" is a blast of fun energy as it rambles, cooks and motors, threatening to careen off the tracks. His softness and lyrical twists show up for the bright and wistful "Might As Well Be Gone" while their patented angular-pop touch comes out for "Tenement Song" again with Paz's great vocal support. Whatever else may be behind the scenes it is clear that Francis writes and the whole band, produces better songs when a strong female presence is in the fold.
Ending with "Plaster of Paris" and "All The Saints" Denis oddly returns to the scene but they are not the strongest track, the truth is whatever inspired the band (and especially Francis) to get back to quick quirky pop/punk is the real holy spirit as one of the best bands seems to be back in form.
This one shocked us at RtBE. We had pretty much written the Pixies off post Kim Deal, but that was premature, this sounds really good. Support the band, buy the album, you can stream it at NPR for a limited time, and peep some video below: