Friday, January 07, 2005


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 7, 2004

When Charles Thompson -- aka Black Francis, aka Frank Black -- left The Pixies back in the early ‘90s, it seemed that he never looked back. He’s remained prolific, releasing a seemingly unending stream of crazy rocking records, in recent years fronting his new band The Catholics. His solo/Catholics output is more than twice that of The Pixies, who released only four full albums and one EP in their brief but influential run.

(In case there are those who somehow missed out on The Pixies -- and unfortunately that applies to far too many people -- this quartet, which also included bassist Kim Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering, was perhaps the greatest indie band of the late 1980s. They were crazier than the Replacements, lighter-hearted than Husker Du and took themselves far less seriously than R.E.M. The Pixies served as inspiration to Nirvana and countless other groups back in those strange days when "alternative rock" truly was an alternative to the mainstream. And I don‘t care what anyone says, The Pixies‘ last album Trump le Monde, was better than Nirvana’s Nevermind, released the same year. And Trump isn’t even The Pixie’s best record. )

The Frank Black albums, for the most part have been full of fun, crazy energy, several good laffs per CD, and occasionally a memorable melody. But always there was the caveat -- this is good, but nothing here matches "Monkey Gone to Heaven" or "Wave of Mutilation" or "Caribou" -- or other masterpieces from the Pixie repertoire.

But last year, for reasons I’m not sure, Black began looking back. He apparently began to come to terms with his Pixiehood.

First there was a Pixies’ 2004 reunion tour -- the first time the four have played together since the breakup. Except for a limited edition live disc from a Minnesota concert, no record came out of the reunion -- though rumors of a pending studio record of new material persist.

In addition to the reunion tour, Black last year released a weird but delightful double CD called Frank Black Francis.

One disc is a collection of demos, recorded by Black and his guitar the day before The Pixies went into the studio to record tunes that eventually would be used on their first EP Come on Pilgrim.

It’s a low-fi affair -- recorded on a Walkman! Although the tunes here definitely would benefit from the full band treatment, Black sings with such wild abandon and raw enthusiasm, it sounds as if he knew he was on the verge of something amazing.

Indeed he plays like he’s about to explode. It’s fast and furious, with about half the songs clocking in under two minutes while only one tops the three-minute mark. Black shrieks and wails, just like he later would become famous for doing as Black Francis. At one point during "Caribou" he makes a note to himself: "There’s supposed to be screaming," he says, then proceeds to do just that.

While Disc One is an essential historic object for Pixies, Disc Two is the more interesting and potentially controversial among Pixies purists. Here Black teams up with Two Pale Boys, Andy Diagram and Keith Moline, a couple of electro-nerds who also have created weird and wonderful soundscapes with Pere Ubu’s David Thomas.

Black and the Pale Boys take 13 Pixies classics and turn them inside out.

Don’t get me wrong. As a long-time Pixies partisan, I prefer the original guitar-based versions of every one of these songs. But the Pale Boys versions are extremely interesting experiments. I love the droning fiddle sound on "Into the White," the regal horns and twangy guitar on "Nimrod’s Son," the lonely Arctic winds on "Carribou," the stuttering trumpet and spooky space sounds on "Is She Weird" and the electronic sounds on "Wave of Mutilation" suggesting seagulls and crashing ocean waves underscores the beauty of the original melody.

The only cut that’s hard to listen to here is the near-15-minute version of "Planet of Sound." It easily could have been cut by two thirds.

I hope all this leads to a proper Pixies reunion album. And I hope Frank Black or Black Francis or whoever he is carries on.

(I just realized that my first Tune-up of last year also featured a review of a Frank Black album. You can find that HERE)

Also Recommended:
*The Real New Fall LP (formerly Country on the Click) by The Fall. Little did I know back in 1981 when I interviewed The Fall’s Mark E. Smith in Evangelos right before a Fall concert across the street at a place called The Gold Bar (formerly El Paseo theater, now the site of Banana Republic) that this band would still be around cranking out records in the 21st Century.

But they are. The personnel has changed, but Smith is still the main Fall guy.

The title of this album is a clever jab at the seemingly endless recycling of old Fall material that inflates and clog’s the group’s discography. But don’t worry. It’s new. It’s real.

And like The Fall’s best work, this new album is full of songs built around raunchy guitar riffs, some subtle synth action and Smith’s incomprehensible vocals. "Singing" isn’t an accurate verb. Smith doesn’t sing as much as rant like some over-excited wino pontificating madness on some grimy street corner.

How could anyone not love someone spitting out lyrics like "I hate the countryside so much/I hate the country folks so much," as Smith does on "Cowtraflow" ?

Rex on the Opry: Bloodshot recording artist Rex Hobart, leader of The Misery Boys, who moved to Santa Fe last year, will appear live to sing his saddest country songs on The Santa Fe Opry, 10 p.m. Friday on KSFR 90.7 FM.

Hobart will be playing solo Tuesday night at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, 319 S. Guadalupe St, Santa Fe, and Jan. 21 at Santa Fe Brewing Company. 18 SR 14 E. Frontage Road. By the way, Rex is playing solo here because The Misery Boys don’t live in Santa Fe. That’s why they’re so miserable.

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