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Friday, September 14, 2007

Music Review: Black Francis -- Oh Inverted Name!

Black Francis -- "Logging" some time in the studio, he "wood" "branch" out and "leaf" his old name behind...heh heh..uh yeah I know that's so lame.

After breaking up the Pixies via fax machine in the early 90's Black Francis commenced his solo career as Frank Black. As Frank Black, Charles Thompson (as his parents named him) would refine and simplify many of the Pixies wilder explorations so that by the time of 2006's Fast Man, Raider Man he resembled no-one so much as latter-day Nick Lowe. This is hardly a bad thing, as both men have a gift for melody and turning a wry phrase but compared to Thompson's wild years and the recent spate of Pixies reunion shows his latter albums can seem pallid. So when it was revealed that the man's new album Bluefinger would be released under the Black Francis moniker fans were excited for a return to Pixies era howling and tension and release style songwriting. They may be disappointed to learn that this is more of a hybrid, with songs that could come from any phase of his career. They should still give this a shot however as it's one of his best albums, his most vital work since his excellent first two solo albums Frank Black and Teenager of The Year.

Bluefinger does feature more vocal growling and howling than Black has employed in years and the first two songs serve to grab the listener by the collar and shake them around a bit. The Pxies-ish "Threshold Apprehension" ranks among his very best tunes, with driving guitars, killer drums, and great backup vocals by his wife Violet, who serves as a Kim Deal-like foil for many of the albums highlights. Then comes "Captain Pasty" which harks back to the triptych of loud fast songs that closed out Teenager of The Year. Other songs like the sweetly melodic "She Took All The Money" and the gorgeous title track hark back to overlooked later albums in Black's solo catalog like 2001's Dog in The Sand.

Bluefinger is a concept album of sorts inspired by Dutch painter and musician Herman Brood -- a man well known for his whole-hearted embrace of the sex drugs and rock n roll ethos. Brood committed suicide by jumping from the roof of a hotel. There are echos and direct references to his personality throughout, songs like the killer "Tight Black Leather" and "Your Mouth Into Mine" in which Black seems to coax Brood's spirit into communicating from Black's own lips.

Overall this is a distillation as opposed to a sprawling demonstration (ala Teenager of The Year) of all Black can do and that means that no matter what phase of his sound he calls upon, the songs are top-notch as is the playing. Those who have had only a passing interest in Blacks' solo career will probably call this a return to form and it is a refreshing change from the mellow mid-tempo adult alternative sounds he has been proffering with his brand name Nashville studio hotshots lately. But this is still a unique record, and all the better for not attempting to simply rehash Pixies-style songwriting.

Bluefinger gets four out of five blue fingers:

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