Frank Black: “Calistan” (1994)

Frank Black’s highway song was floated as a promotional single, but made few if any inroads on the radio.

Kronomyth 2.2: California standard transmission.

I’m a big believer in serving the best wine first at a musical feast, which is exactly what Teenager of the Year does. Usually by the time Calistan rolls around as the fourth track, I’m convinced that Black can do no wrong. Now, whether it’s the third-best song on the album, no, probably not. Elektra sort of floats the idea on this promotional single, but I’m not even sure “Calistan” would make my top ten from Teenager, which speaks to the quality of that album as much as anything.

“Calistan” is a haunted song, both musically and lyrically, as Black travels back to a world where people and places have changed or disappeared. There is an element of country to it, but it’s filtered through the same distorted alt-rock lens that Camper Van Beethoven used on occasion (cf. “When I Win the Lottery”). But where CvB seemed sarcastic most of the time, Black is sympathetic. He is an outside observer with insight into the characters he sings about, which makes a song like “Calistan” more affecting than it might be otherwise. It’s a song that has hung around in his repertoire for a reason. Black explains the song in the video below, which is surprisingly annoying.

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Original CD single version

1. Calistan (LP version) (Frank Black) (3:22)

The Players

Produced by Eric Drew Feldman, Frank Black and Al Clay; engineered by Al Clay; mixed by David Bianco.

The Plastic

Released on promotional CD single in 1994 in the US (Elektra, PRCD 9037-2).

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