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Frank Black – Frank Black Francis

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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.

About Greg Smyth

  • http://blog.largeheartedboy.com david

    I agree, I love the demos disc but can do without the reworked Pixies songs on Frank Black Francis.

    His first two solo albums are, for me at least, almost as good as anything the Pixies ever did, and are amongmy favorite records of all time.

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    I agree that his earlier solo stuff was pretty decent, but some of his later stuff was rubbish. Show Me Your Tears, though, is really ace.

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple Stark

    Greg,

    I have added your review to the Advance.net network. Thank you for the post.

    One of those pages is here.

    I’m Temple Stark, the new music review editor guy.

  • Randolph Hayes

    Greg, your review is very well written. However, I must say that I disagree with your discrediting of much of Frank Black’s solo records. While we are all entitled to our own opinions, it is important not to forget that Frank Black, despite being considered as a washout in many circles and completely fading out in others, he kept making music, remaining an enigma, and endlessly touring the bar circuit.

    Frank Black has greatly progressed as a musician, and it is important to note that in an industry that is completely bogged down by corporate trash.

    Additionally, and in regards to Frank’s more recent solo outings, I hope that everybody listens to them more than once. These albums are really ,it just takes a little while for the ear to adjust to them, simply because, chronologically, they are so different from each other.

    Frank Black is true song writer, a musician’s musician. It’s a good time to be a fan his right now. It’s great to see the Pixies being successful, and we have the two new solo albums to look forward to in March, which will be proceeded by another tour. Pointedly, I think it is rude to demand another Pixies album. Be thankful the man is still making music despite all of the obstacles and poor record sales he has faced in the past few years.

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    Firstly, thanks for the comment Randolph. Glad you enjoyed the review, even if you didn’t agree with me (though obviously that isn’t the point of a review – just my opinion).

    Trust me, I am glad that Frank Black is still making music and you’re right that in this climate that alone is cause for thanks. I just don’t believe that people should get a free ride (critically speaking) just because they’re still around despite it all. Being a musician’s musician isn’t enough – there are thousands of worthy and technically brilliant guitarists around making dull but technically brilliant music

    I don’t think it’s rude to be excited by the prospect of a new Pixies album, especially since it’s been dangled tantilizingly in front of us since they got back together. Having said that, I’m equally excited by the prospect of new Frank Black albums given the stunning return to form shown by Show Me Your Tears.

    And if either Frank Black or the Pixies shows up at a town near me, trust me, I’ll be first in line for tickets.