Pixies Head Carrier

[Pixiesmusic/Play It Again Sam; 2016]

Rating: 1.5/5

Styles: rock
Others: Black Francis, Frank Black

In my formative years, I dabbled in a little Surfer Rosa. That album, its associate Come On Pilgrim, and the singles from Doolittle demarcate the beginnings and ends of my experience with Pixies. Which is to say, I’ve never really been too much of a fan. That glad fact makes me more qualified than most to write this necessary review.

It goes without saying that the Pixies of 2016 are, functionally, not the Pixies of 1987, or 1989, or even 1991. To hold them to any previous standard, then, would be unfair, maybe even a little egregious. There’s something nonetheless poignant, poetic, about one of the most mythologized, monolithic alt-rock bands I know — and they are an alt-rock band — having so little to offer in their present form that knowingly, single-handedly canning their own legacy is the preferred, if not only viable alternative. And Head Carrier offers this very performance.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean to suggest that Pixies somehow “owe” me anything similar to their previous acclaimed output. Nor do they owe me, really, any kind of basic utility to begin with — not on any principal. Popular music, like all discrete forms of art, provides a fluid locus of free association and mutual exchange: basic respect aside, artists and participants are not — and necessarily can’t be — assured any guarantee from the other party.

Head Carrier feels nonetheless unnecessary. It offers virtually nothing differentiating it from any number of the lesser Frank Black-helmed vanity projects that have populated the outer ring of Pixies’ asteroid-belt legacy for over two decades. It exists, brazenly, because it does.

Musically, there are too many things going on and too few things going on. Every track sounds more or less the same, and every track sounds like a poor heyday tribute. The problem is evident from the second track “Classic Masher,” which is highly reminiscent of “Debaser,” even regurgitating some of that song’s same ostinati, as if to add insult to injury. “All I Think About Now,” in the most bald-faced way, straight-up steals the iconic intro riff from “Where is My Mind?” Whether it was intentional or not, it feels alternately condescending and uninspired.

Which proffers the inevitable question: Why? “Nothing comes from nothing,” Black spits, apparently without reflection, in “Tenement Song.” He has since jettisoned his distinctive impressed yowl, leaving only mixed or empty feelings. He has yet to take his own advice.

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