Frank Black Francis
Frank Black Francis
nyone who went to one of the Pixies gigs earlier this year will know just how venerated they are. It was like welcoming home your team after they’ve just won the Champions League or World Series. Frank Black and co didn’t do much—just stood there and played the songs—and the crowd wept, screamed and shook their asses like the teenagers they were when they bought Surfer Rosa. Of course, this was because of the sheer damn quality of those songs. “Where Is My Mind?”, “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, “Cactus”. This is some of the greatest music ever written. Nobody but the most devoted fan would say Frank Black’s solo stuff has been brilliant, but when he was younger he deserved that most overused tag: genius.
This double CD set presents those magnificent songs in versions you probably won’t have heard before—before and after. The first CD includes 15 demos taken from a cassette that was recorded on a Walkman by the producer of Come on Pilgrim back in 1987. These include some of the classics from that album and its follow-up: “The Holiday Song”, “Caribou”, “I’ve Been Tired”, plus some less well-known tracks, “Build High” and “Boom Chickaboom” (trust me, they’re not less well-known for nothing).
In theory, this sounds fantastic—a fascinating document for Pixies-lovers—but although it’s striking to hear the genesis of these songs, stripped down and raw, just Frank and an acoustic guitar, I can’t imagine ever wanting to listen to these demo versions more than once. I missed Joey Santiago’s guitar, Kim Deal’s bass, David Lovering’s drums. Without the band behind him, these songs lack the magic that made those early Pixies albums so glorious. It’s proof, if it were ever needed, that the Pixies were about so much more than Frank’s songwriting. It was the chemistry between the four of them that made them special and that got those crowds so excited on the reunion tour. File under: interesting, but inessential.
The second CD was created because Frank Black didn’t want people to feel ripped-off buying a demo tape. In order to create a more valuable product he teamed up with two pale boys. No, not just any wan young men: Two Pale Boys, called Andy Diagram and Keith Moline, who play trumpet, violin, guitar and electronics. That’s right—this disc contains reinterpretations of songs like “Wave of Mutilation” and “Levitate Me” with trumpets and violin. It’s like daubing a broad smile on the Mona Lisa’s face because you thought the other one was too enigmatic. In the sleeve notes, Frank writes that he knows he’s messing with the gospel but that he’s happy with the results. He’s clearly addled. The results are horrible. Most horrible of all is a version of “Planet of Sound” that made my teeth ache. It’s ten minutes long. It feels like much, much longer.
Okay, these are Frank’s songs, so he should be able to do what he likes with them, right? No. That’s like saying “he’s my dog so I’ll kick him if I want to”. File under: very bad ideas.
Reviewed by: Mark Edwards
Reviewed on: 2004-10-29