Pixies, Head Carrier – It seems that this album was released with little fanfare, but then, I don’t keep up with Frank Black news like I used to. He actually hasn’t put out a solo album in some time, which is kind of weird considering he was really cranking them out for a few years there. On this record, Paz Lenchantin has taken the place of Kim Deal as permanent bassist and singer. While I think it’s a valid argument that it isn’t really the Pixies without Kim, these songs still sound like Pixies numbers. Not exactly like their older work, of course, but in the same general tone and spirit. I found the last album by the reformed Pixies, Indie Cindy, rather forgettable (maybe I should give it another chance); but based on only two listens I think some of these new tracks could becomes classics in my mind. The title comes from the legends of cephalophores, saints who are depicted carrying their own heads around, a topic also addressed by They Might Be Giants a few years back. While they come up in at least two of the songs on here, a more prominent theme is France, which is referenced in some way in five songs by my count, plus there’s a French phrase in another. Not that this is uncommon for lyrics penned by Black Francis (whom I still tend to call Frank Black); he seems to have a real love for the country.
Head Carrier – This song seems to be based on a legend I heard in a college history course, that of St. Denis of Paris. He was beheaded at the Montmartre, then walked six miles while carrying his head. He was buried alongside two other martyrs, Rusticus and Eleutherius, obviously the Rusty and Luther of the song. I’m not sure about the three-headed monster, unless it’s a reference to the Trinity. As with some other Frank Black/Black Francis lyrics, he gives an accurate retelling of the myth in a a somewhat more modern idiom.
Classic Masher – The first single from the album, which according to a quick Google search has made the adult alternative charts. So the Pixies are considered adult music now? It’s incredibly catchy, so I’m not surprised it’s a hit. I hadn’t heard this before, but apparently “masher” is a slang term for someone who makes unwanted sexual advances toward strangers in public places. The masher of this song appears to be a bit of a dandy. There’s an appropriately darkly surreal video for this one, filmed in stop motion.
Baal’s Back – The lead vocal here proves that Black Francis can still scream with the best of them. While the scream-y songs are the main draw of the band for some fans, I tend to find them a little off-putting at first, although they often grow on me. It’s a very short song with some interesting music.
Might As Well Be Gone – In contrast to the last song, this is…well, not exactly mellow, but fairly slow and melodic. This one reminds me of some of the slower songs Frank did on his own; “Garbage Heap” immediately comes to mind.
Oona – I like the rhyme of “eyrie” with “scary” that opens this song. Oona comes across as a larger-than-life divine figure, someone the narrator both admires and fears. The name itself is apparently most popular in Ireland and Finland, but I don’t know if there’s any significance to that. Although the name might actually come from the Irish for “lamb,” I have to wonder if it was chosen for its similarity to the number one in many European languages.
Talent – This was one I liked right away. Frank takes a narrative tone in the verses, while the chorus is simple and catchy. It reminds me a little of “Dig for Fire,” not so much in the sound as in its being the story of meeting two unusual people. It ends abruptly with the nearly-spoken account of a guy hiding out in the sewers of Paris. I wonder if he has anything to do with the lines about “going down the drain again” in “Head Carrier,” which also took place in Paris.
Tenement Song – I’m guessing this about an actual musician, although I couldn’t say which one. It’s a pretty enjoyable number regardless, but I can’t really think of anything else to say about it.
Bel Esprit – A duet between Frank and Paz. Their voices blend well together, and while hers isn’t as low as Kim’s, there’s still a similar quality there.
All I Think About Now – Here, Paz actually sings lead in a song at least partially about Kim. I believe Paz came up with the basic concept, and Frank wrote the lyrics. The guitar riff sounds kind of like “Where Is My Mind,” giving it a classic Pixies feel even with a new singer.
Um Chagga Lagga – Another louder, faster number references French courtesan Cora Pearl and the wind known as the Tramontane. I guess it’s basically just about a guy wandering through Belgium and France, perhaps on the lam for some reason.
Plaster of Paris – This one is really catchy, and has a softer lead vocal from Frank. It’s also where the word “cephalophore” is actually used, even though “Head Carrier” is the song ABOUT one.
All the Saints – A dark little number ends the album, with Frank comparing himself to martyred saints. Appropriate listening for four days after All Saints’ Day, I suppose.