Frank Black Francis

"

Frankie! Hell, I'm a huge fan but please, fuck around with the stuff to your heart's content.


"


 


I've no idea what to call him anymore, but the bloke who wrote the Pixies songs returns with a double album of sorts. Disc one contains the 'legendary' demo Black Frank made prior to recording Come On Pilgrim. Disc two sees Frank Francis muck about with The Pixies back catalogue in the company of the two pale boys, a.k.a. Andy Diagram and Keith Moline. An aside: who'd have thought that two of rock's hardest living men were/are called Keith – is there an inverse relationship between the coolness of a rock star's name and his ability to consume monstrous amounts of bad substances? Brian, Roger, Fred, Bill...


Anyway, this disc has been marketed and reviewed as being something of a holy grail for Pixies fans. I can't help but wonder why. So Francis Black shows himself to be a good guitar player on the demos – so what, exactly? It's slightly surprising to find that "Subbacultcha" could have been on the first Pixies album rather than the last...but again, so what? What is it, fundamentally, that makes fans want to hear demos, early live versions and so on? Most demos, like most bonus tracks, like most b-sides and like most deleted scenes on dvds are disappointing. There is a reason why the song wasn't on the album and why the scene wasn't in the film. Of course there are rare instances that counter this rule but they tend to be the exceptions that prove it. This yearning for the lost is symptomatic, I think, of the fan's desire to gently torture himself – there simply must be vaults filled with lost Scott Walker songs from 1968, mustn't there? They'll find the rest of the footage from The Wicker Man, won't they? Fans can't deal with finality and that's no doubt part of the reason why the Pixies have been touring the globe this year. Anyway, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the reaction of most Pixies fans on listening to these finally released and much-anticipated demos went along the lines of – Oh. Now, if only we could hear the version of Psycho Killer with violins on it... So without wishing to be sacrilegious, these acoustic demos, recorded live into a cassette walkman, sound pretty much as you'd expect them to. You can amuse yourself when you hear the phone ringing during "Nimrod's Son" and you can enjoy Frank's patter, but ultimately you'll carry on listening to the studio albums and begin looking for the next holy grail.


To keep on the religious tip, Francis Frank worries that some fans think that the second cd might be an example of messing with the gospel. Whoa there, Frankie! Hell, I'm a huge fan but please, fuck around with the stuff to your heart's content. Better this, I think, than a new album. Again, the reunion and the tour and all that: I guess it's great but it's still symptomatic of the fan's inability to let go. Now, as I can see that this line of argument isn't winning me any friends I'll compound my sins by saying that the second cd is by far the more interesting of the two. Here's what happened: Blank Frank turned up, recorded his vocals and his acoustic guitar and then buggered off. The tapes were handed over to these two pale fellers, men who play the violin and the trumpet. Yes, you heard me correctly, and if you think it can't get any worse well it can, because one of these pale men used to be in James! I know what you're thinking – run away! In the name of God run away!


But you'd be wrong.


I have to confess that I haven't followed Frankie Blank's solo career (from what I can tell he hasn't been able to match Kim Deal's "Cannonball") so it was great to hear that his voice hasn't changed all that much – he can still screech, yelp and hit all the high notes. "Caribou" opens the disc and the pale boys augment Frank's singing with trumpet, gentle drum washes, bells and strange electronic squiggles. Crucially, the pale boys allow the songs the space they deserve – yes, they add plenty of background weirdness but they never overpower the songs. Another thing that strikes you early on is that you can hear the lyrics a little more clearly. I was rather disappointed to find that on "Cactus" he is sitting on a cement floor, as opposed to a semen floor. Oh well. "Nimrod's Son" is definitely one of the highlights of the album – it sounds like a New Orleans funeral dirge and Francis has great fun with the laugh that precedes the line 'the joke is come upon me'. On "Levitate Me" there is Tom Waits style percussion and "Velouria" becomes a sad lament. Another highlight is "Holiday Song", driven as it is by a brass section that is part oompah band and part Roy Castle. "Subbacultcha" is also radically mangled: there's a farting brass sound, more Waitsian percussion and the sound of a Moroccan violin. Not everything works – big name songs like "Monkey Gone to Heaven" are treated a little reverentially and there was no reason to make "Planet of Sound" last fifteen minutes (oh! If only the original had!) – but, overall this is a lot of fun. Maybe there are po-faced Pixies fans out there who do think this is an act of desecration but...well, fuck it, frankly.


 


 Words: Chris Dawson