Let me acknowledge that many may feel betrayed by a fellow Frank Black fan giving anything he does a less-than-stellar rating. But here’s the thing: Frankblackfrancis, a two-disc set of Black’s acoustic demos and newly recorded versions of Pixies songs, is a nice little package of rarities, but it’s hardly for anyone but the, as Mr. Black himself calls them, uberfans. As such, I rate the package’s function in the Frank Black/Pixies mythos, not on songwriting or production.
With the Pixies making a comeback, stuff like this was bound to surface. I don’t criticize Mr. Black for releasing extraneous material, because out of all the musical icons who milk the crop, this man deserves it. The Pixies went unnoticed in the mainstream during their time, despite that much of their material was radio friendly — “Monkey,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Digging for Fire” — even in the era of Warrant and C&C Music Factory. And Black’s solo career has been nothing short of amazing. His cult has grown and hindsight has begun to heap long-overdue rewards on the Pixies, and it’s good that he releases all of this stuff. Frankblackfrancis, a combination of Charles Thompson’s stage names, will make completists happy as clams. Here’s why:
The previously unreleased demo is an extremely up close and personal recording of just Black and his acoustic guitar, recorded way back in 1986 at the Boston home of Gary Smith, who would go on to produce Come On Pilgrim. In an accompanying press note, Black tells how Smith wanted some audio notes on the songs, which he was to record the next day with the rest of the band, so Black obliged him. The recordings, now remastered, bare all.
The second disc contains thirteen of the Pixies most endearing and popular tracks reinterpreted by London duo Two Pale Boys. The tracks are a unique pleasure for people who love these songs, but they will never be more than novelties. The same people who will be interested in hearing these tracks would rather hear the original songs in their timeless power that made them inspire reinterpretations to begin with. The production is, however, wonderfully lush and at times fascinating, with trumpet picking up many of Joey Santiago’s guitar melodies and synthetics picking up David Lovering’s and Kim Deal’s rhythm sections: think Massive Attack with Black belting out fresh vocals. They offer glimpses of classics cut-up and re-imaged with elegant brilliance.
Frankblackfrancis is perhaps a fan’s dream, but after digestion, it will become a coffee-and-fireplace novelty that true fans will relish a couple times a year. Buy the original albums first. Once you experience the classics, something like this will be the cherry on the sundae.