Friday, January 09, 2004

Terrell's Tuneup: Frank Black, Iggy Pop, The Mummies, Just Short of Sunday

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican, Jan. 9, 2004

Amazing fact: Charles Thompson, aka Black Francis aka Frank Black has now made more albums with The Catholics than he did with The Pixies, the band that made him famous.

Of course it’s true that none of The Catholics’ albums are even close to being as vital and influential as The Pixies’ best work. But all of Black’s post-Pixies work are good listens. He hasn’t released anything to embarrass himself yet.

His latest, Show Me Your Tears, is Black’s sixth album with The Catholics. He’s still got some of that old Pixies punch, The opening cut “Nadine,“ about a girl with “skin like a ghost,” with its Cramps-like bass hook, is something The Pixies might have tried.

But much of the album continues down the country roots road Black started on 2000’s Dog in the Sand. There’s steel guitar on lots of the tracks and the blues pops up here and there.

“New House of the Pope” sounds like a strange update of “St. James Infirmary.” “Horrible Day” sounds like country music as filtered through The Rolling Stones. “When Will Happiness Find Me Again” sounds like country filtered through Uncle Tupelo. And “Goodbye Lorraine,” with its sweet steel by Catholic Rich Gilbert just sounds like a good country song.

Black tries out some other directions too. The music of “This Old Heartbreak” sounds like an ode to Leonard Cohen or perhaps Nick Cave.

But most remarkable is the anthem-like final cut, “Manitoba.” In which Black, singing over a jangly guitar, steel and accordion (Van Dyke Parks!), declares “I have seen the face of God and I was not afraid/ I have seen the face of God and I have dearly paid.”

One great touch on this track is an instrumental coda featuring a trumpet solo butting up against a screaming guitar. This has to be the fine hand of Stan Ridgway, who produced this song and several others on Show Me Your Tears. (Most of the others were produced by longtime Black crony Nick Vincent.) Perhaps it’s the Ridgway influence, but this has to be one of the most textured Frank Black albums yet.

Also Recommended:

*Skull Ring by Iggy Pop, Like Frank Black, James Osterberg, aka Iggy Pop made a (fictitious) name for himself in a band that broke up a long time ago and even though he’s made lots and lots of album since then, and most the time they’re fun to listen to, Iggy still gets measured against his old work with his old band. And usually he doesn’t measure up.

This new album features four songs with Iggy fronting his famous old band, The Stooges (well, at least the surviving members, Ron and Scott Asheton.). It’s the first time in 30 years or so and they all sound in fine form. But this only begs a huge question: Why not a whole album with the reunited Stooges? Maybe he wanted to avoid the inevitable hype surrounding a full-blown “reunion” of that stature.

Instead there’s a revolving door of bands including Green Day, Sum 41 and Iggy’s own recent backup group The Trolls -- as well as guest spots for punkette Peaches.

Like most latter day Iggy albums, Skull Ring is mostly roaring guitar rage. Most the songs are forgettable, but whether with the Stooges or Green Day or whoever, Iggy rocks hard. You might not remember the tune in a couple of months, but Iggy tackles it as if his life depended on it.

And despite the false alarm of his Avenue B album from a few years ago -- which implied a new, toned-down, more bookish Iggy -- Mr. Pop seems determined to live up to a pledge from a song from an old album: “I Won’t Crap Out.”

*Death by Unga Bunga by The Mummies. Though their gauze-wrapped stage appearances might have given the mistaken impressions that The Mummies were a novelty act, in reality these guys were garage band gargantuans. Pharoahs of fuzz-tone. Princes of pawn-shop primitivism. (Actually, they called themselves the “Kings of Budget Rock.”)

The Mummies broke up sometime in the early ‘90s, but the tiny unknown Estrus label late last year released this 22-song compilation of glorious lo-fi wonderment. Virtually all the songs sound as if they could have come off one of the Pebbles compilations of unknown ‘60s garage music.

Among the highlights here are “I’m Gonna Kill My Baby Tonight,” “(I Should Be Lookin’ For) Dangerman,” and “(You Must Fight to Live on) The Planet of the Apes.”

*11:53 by Just Short of Sunday. These Texas high school boys are young enough to be Iggy Pop’s grandchildren. But on this 5-song EP they play their melodic brand of pop punk with true passion.

JSOS does teenage angst a lot more convincingly than older, more jaded acts. When they sing, “The worst way to miss someone is to sit right by them/And know you can never have them,” you know they know of what they speak. And for older listeners it might even bring back some bad memories of biology class.

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