[Review] Frank Black (1993)

In the post-Pixies gambit for attention, the smart money was on Black.

Kronomyth 1.0: Pixies of the litter.

First, a moment of silence for Pixies. Now onward and very slightly downward to Frank Black’s first album. Released a year-and-a-half after Trompe le Monde, Black’s eponymous offering reaffirms what everyone already knew: that Black could spit out fifteen great songs as easily as a minor league baseball manager spits tobacco juice. Frank Black was inscrutable, beautiful, conspiratorial, testimonial, mad and serene. Or maybe it was none of those things and we were making shapes out of shadows on the wall cast by a strangely powerful, luminous source.

Frank Black doesn’t pussyfoot around what Black has to offer listeners. It leads off with its best track, “Los Angeles,” and throws another dozen good ideas at you in a sort of descending order of quality so that, by the time “Czar” rolls around, you’ve either bought into Black as the new standard-bearer of whatever Pixies stood for or you’ve committed yourself to a lifetime of mourning. (Incidentally, the link at the end is not an accurate representation of the album. I just included it because it’s freaking awesome.)

You might view this as Pixies lite, and I’m not saying it isn’t. Pixies never made an album this melodic except maybe Bossanova, but that was still a great album. Frank Black is a pretty great record. Yes, it winds down a bit at the end, as you wonder if the instrumental “Tossed” should have been tossed back or if “Every Time I Go Around Here” is a sensitive side of Black you didn’t need to see. But, by then, Black had already bought my loyalty with at least eight really good songs on which I could mentally surf to strange waves of social disconnection/rejection.

A couple things worth mentioning here. Eric Drew Feldman (Captain Beefheart, Pere Ubu) is a brilliant accomplice in all this. Beefheart and Pixies isn’t the kind of connection you’d normally make, but Feldman’s spooky synthetics give the songs just the right amount of weirdness. Also, Black’s cover of The Beach Boys’ “Hang On To Your Ego” is awesome if, again, uncharacteristic for Pixies. It’s the first sign that Black was looking to bend the rigid rules of post-modern punk that dictated the old idols were to be rejected, a point made plainer when Black contributed two tracks to the Otis Blackwell tribute, Brace Yourself.

Pixies fans should enjoy this album, unless they’re burning some steely dan-shaped candle for Kim Deal. Smashing Pumpkins fans will enjoy this too, particularly in its moments of pseudo-lucidity. Buy the original Pixies discs first because they’re all classics, then try to resist buying this and Black’s next album, Teenager of the Year. You probably won’t succeed, but failure has never felt so good.

The Songs

1. Los Angeles
2. I Heard Ramona Sing
3. Hang On To Your Ego (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher)
4. Fu Manchu
5. Places Named After Numbers
6. Czar
7. Old Black Dawning
8. Ten Percenter
9. Brackish Boy
10. Two Spaces
11. Tossed (Instrumental Version)
12. Parry The Wind High, Low
13. Adda Lee
14. Every Time I Go Around Here
15. Don’t Ya Rile ‘Em

All songs written by Frank Black unless noted.

The Players

Frank Black (vocals, guitar), Eric Drew Feldman (bass, keyboards, synthetics), Nick Vincent (drums, percussion) with Bob Giusti (drums), Kurt Hoffman (saxophone), John Linnell (saxophone), Joey Santiago (guitar), David Sardy (guitar), Moris Tepper (guitar). Produced by Eric Drew Feldman and Frank Black; recorded and mixed by Al Clay.

The Pictures

Design by Vaughan Oliver and Chris Bigg at v23. Portrait photography by Michael Halsband. Artwork photography by Simon Larbalestier.

The Plastic

Released on compact disc and cassette on March 8, 1993 in the US (Elektra, 61467-2), the UK (4AD, CAD/CAD C 3004) and Germany (Rough Trade, RTD 120.1533.2); reached #9 on the UK charts and #117 on the US charts.

  1. Re-released on orange vinyl elpee in 2019 in the US (4AD, CAD 3004 LPE) to commemorate Record Store Day.

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