Frank Black Frank Black Francis

[SpinArt; 2004]

Styles: rock music
Others: Pixies, Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, Thievery Corporation

The Pixies are a rock band, and by many accounts, among the best ever. But Charles Thompson, a.k.a. Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis, has just released an album that brings the listener those Pixies songs rocked us to the core from completely new angles. The two-disc release has a demo tape made by Francis with his friend's walkman recorder just before The Pixies entered the studio for the first time, and a recent collaboration with Two Pale Boys, a couple of producers from London. The final result: Two discs, no rock.

The Pixies are a rock band, and their songs were written as such. Thus, a man with only an acoustic guitar, as heard on the demo disc, shouldn't be directly compared to the outcome of the now legendary early Pixies songs. Yet, one can't help but feel empty with these renditions. Perhaps "Isla De Encanta" serves as the best display of the short falls of this disc. In its final form, "Isla De Encanta" is a furiously paced blast of sound, and a fan favorite at live shows. But on the demo disc, the poor recording set up makes the lone acoustic sound like a ukulele, and Francis's voice does not come near the intensity that sells the final product.

On other parts of the demo, Francis hums what would later become guitar licks when he had a full band at his disposal, and sometimes just says what he envisions ("then the sticks go like this...") instead of actually performing it (not that he could, given the circumstances). At one point, a phone rings in the background. It should be said that Francis was aware of the shortcomings of this demo session. That's why, when asked to release it a few years ago, he refused. And that's why, now that it is released, it is done so along with the latest product of Francis', and what is perhaps the polar opposite of the lo-fi demo.

The Pixies are a rock band; but along with Two Pale Boys, Francis, who takes on the name Frank Black Francis for this release, has transformed some of the Pixies' most popular works into an album of electronic trips. He has "messed with the gospel," as Francis himself put it. But however blasphemous you see this move, it is overall a success. For the most part, Francis' vocals are the only recognizable part of these new tracks. The rest is replaced with loops, only occasionally imitating a riff from the songs. This leads to some dull points, especially on "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Velouria," on which the instrumentals are not developed and taken at a meandering pace. In fact, the entire album is plagued with beats that are dreadfully slow. Regardless, several songs are given worthwhile new reading. On "Caribou," Francis' already serine falsetto is taken to even higher heights by the soft horns and electronic sounds that rise beneath it, and "Subbacultcha" is transformed into a Tom Waits-esque, eerie trip propelled by an orchestra of percussion.

The one thing the demo and the remix have in common is they both put Francis' voice in a more prominent position than on the Pixies albums, and that is certainly not a bad thing. On the former disc, "Break My Body" showcases Francis' booming alto, and on the latter, he lulls you on "Wave of Mutilation." At the very least, these songs are distinct renditions that are worthwhile for the already established Pixies fan.

The Pixies are a rock band, but after this release, Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis, a.k.a. Charles Thompson, may subvert such a simple label.

Disc One

1. The Holiday Song
2. I'm Amazed
3. Rock A My Soul
4. Isla De Encanta
5. Caribou
6. Broken Face
7. Build High
8. Nimrod's Son
9. Ed Is Dead
10. Subbacultcha
11. Boom Chickaboom
12. I've Been Tired
13. Break My Body
14. Oh My Golly
15. Vamos

Disc Two

1. Caribou
2. Where Is My Mind?
3. Cactus
4. Nimrod's Son
5. Levitate Me
6. Wave Of Mutilation
7. Monkey Gone To Heaven
8. Velouria
9. The Holiday Song
10. Into the White
11. Is She Weird?
12. Subbacultcha
13. Planet of Sound

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