It wasn’t so long ago that Frank Black was regarded as a washout. Having resolutely failed to set the world alight post-Pixies, his solo albums followed the law of diminishing returns to the point where he released two albums recorded on no-fi two track equipment on the same day. Since then there’s been a swift turnaround in Charles’ fortunes, thanks mainly to the much-dismissed Pixies reunion but also to the shockingly decent last Catholics album Show Me Your Tears.
And so it is that, having pledged his troth once more to the Pixies bandwagon, we get Frank Black Francis, an attempt at reconciling the man he was then with the one he is now. True to this dichotomy the album is split into two discs – one pre-Pixies solo demos, the other reworkings of Pixies standards. Black suggests in the sleeve-notes that just releasing the demo discs wasn’t good enough, there had to be something to entice new fans and not just preach to the perverted. There’s a certain logic behind that reasoning however, it’s obvious which is potentially the most interesting and this is borne out in the music.
The recording quality of the first disc is, as Black freely admits, of occasionally dubious quality but at no point does that diminish the power of listening to Black Francis (for it is he) belting out early standards. The feeling of being invited into a private audience is unshakeable, the young Black all whiny-voiced and knocking seven shades of flamenco-punk out of an acoustic guitar. Every single track is imbued with that gut-level excitement of hearing something secret and new.
The second disc is as hit and miss as you might expect. Admittedly it’s gutsy of Black to screw around with a back catalogue so revered, but for the most part the songs are just slightly dreary, slowed-down rehashings. Where this approach works, such as a haunting reprisal of “Caribou” or the, err.., haunting Where Is “My Mind?”, it works well but this is often because the it’s in-keeping with the original’s sentiment. Where it doesn’t, any remnants of the Pixies’ alt-pop blast are extracted and the songs often come across as both indulgent and self-aggrandising, not more so than in a pointlessly repetitive fifteen minute version of “Planet Of Sound”.
The demo disc alone makes it worth the price of admission, but as a whole Frank Black Francis is too patchy to make it essential. Show Me Your Tears, and new Pixies track “Bam Thwok!”, showed that Frank Black still has the tuneful knack most of us thought he’d lost, so maybe it’s time to let the cannon speak for itself and move on. God knows we’d all like to hear a new Pixies album.