Before collapsing under the strain of prolonged acrimony between lead singer Black Francis and bassist Kim Deal, the Pixies cranked out four albums in as many years. The combined effect of Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova, and Trompe le Monde transformed the alternative (or college, or indie, or underground) rock band into critical darlings and vital influences for a younger generation of musicians, Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke among them. These artists would go on to recreate rock music in their image during the ‘90s, playing to audiences on a scale unimaginable to their heroes, while the Pixies themselves, disassembled, did other things, none of them remotely as electric as their former work.
Reuniting in 2003 after a decade-long hiatus, the band went on tour and played sold-out shows for several years. It was a lucrative, if sterile, period: The creative and personal tensions between Deal and Francis remained unresolved, and hopes of a new Pixies album went unfulfilled. In 2013, Deal was dismissed from the band. Her position was soon taken over by Paz Lenchantin, and new songs began to emerge. Three EPs were released in six months before being bundled together as Indie Cindy, an album which was neither well-loved nor a masterpiece: Pitchfork, by then the indie ratings agency of record, graded Indie Cindy at 2.5, a score that seems especially abysmal when one considers that the average grade the Pixies’ original albums had received from Pitchfork was 9.6.
Last week’s announcement of a new Pixies album due September 30, then, was hardly the event that it might have been ten or even five years ago. Perhaps aware of this anticipation deficit, Black Francis is doing what he can to raise expectations. In an interview today with BBC Radio 6’s Abbie McCarthy, Francis let slip a few enticing facts regarding his band’s forthcoming Head Carrier. Asked to situate the forthcoming album’s sound relative to its predecessors, Francis replied that Head Carrier is less “slick” than Indie Cindy or Trompe le Monde (incidentally the band’s least universally beloved albums); rather, the new album possesses “a bit of early Pixies slosh”; sonically, “It’s a little bit more of a simpler landscape. More like Doolittle.” Doolittle is, incidentally, the band’s most universally beloved album.
Nor was that all the catnip for nostalgics that Francis would drop. Later in the interview, he revealed that one of Head Carrier’s 12 tracks, titled “All I Think About Now,” features lead soprano vocals from Lenchantin; the lyrics, penned by Francis, constitute a “thank-you letter” directed at Kim Deal. Francis was quick to dance away from any suggestion that the song should be taken as a new chapter in the dramatic chronicle of Pixies strife and reconciliation. “I think that, really, the song is not really intended for the listener to be, like, thinking about the characters in our band’s history or anything like that,” he warned, his voice charged (as usual) with ironically inflected bombast. Actually, “the lyric is more open-ended so you can insert your own life into the song,” he added, as if anyone still listening to the Pixies would prefer to do that when a new chance to revisit the legendary past of the band was an option.