Surely set to be one of the Pixies main man’s strongest solo albums.
Martin Longley 2010-04-01
As the Pixies tour still wends its gradual way around the globe, their main man releases what is surely set to be one of his strongest Black Francis albums. Or, indeed, one of his strongest Frank Black albums.
Co-producer Eric Drew Feldman had been holding on to an old black guitar that a fan had given Francis at a San Francisco club. Black finally took hold of it, polishing it up with red wine in his dressing room. Each time he played it a pleasing chord emerged. On a whim, Black instructed his tour manager to book studio time, and he began laying down tracks après-gig, at 4am in LA. Further songs were captured in London, at a studio that Francis believed to be haunted. This comes as no surprise, given the disc's shimmering sonic aura.
Black continues to refine his pop sensibilities, loading each song with heavy hooks and often hitting a chorus before 30 seconds have elapsed. He can drawl with a deeply threatening gruffness, then switch psychotically to a sweetly falsetto howl. At his heart lies saccharine 1950s balladry, but this purity can't survive intact once Francis soils it with his deranged yowling vocals and broken guitar distortion. Velvet-peach melodies are covered with elephantiasis skin.
Vocals emerge from a churning barrage of axes, with Feldman adding to the wall of sound with his antique keyboard crankiness. He floods the background with string ensemble impersonations, cheesy retro settings that sound like they're being forced through a cheap, malfunctioning amplifier. Black's guitar solos are never overlong, but he fills them with undiluted urgency. His sound is reminiscent of Marc Bolan's: choogling and chopping, talking and weeping. Francis is also sounding increasingly similar to Ian Hunter and Alice Cooper, though Wheels, which recalls the latter, is actually a Flying Burrito Brothers cover. It's a grubby rocker, topped by a mammoth guitar solo.
As it happens, most of these songs are rockers, and even the ballads possess a toughened core of energy. Two or three event-crammed minutes are the norm. The entire album barely hits 37. O My Tidy Sum has acoustic guitar strumming to the fore, then Rabbits turns towards nasty psychedelia, coloured by Black's sinister playfulness. When I Go Down On You is the most romantic number in the album's supposed handling of matters sexual, though Francis prefers to keep his words largely abstract in nature.