Black Francis


Having spent over a decade pottering on the periphery with an air of janitorial resignation, Frank Black has finally turned in the greatest number of memorable tunes ever amassed on a FB/BF release; NonStopErotik deserves to turn heads. However, when the cleft-lipped Svn Fingers was hacked up like a toxic fur-ball in 2008, replete with Pixie-checking tropes and a Deal-ian cut in the shape of ‘Garbage Heap’, our appetite for antic violence was duly excited . For the redoubtable Charlie T to emerge with nine archetypal Pixies melodies with instant replay value, without a manifesto of punk-experimental malintent in hand, is nothing short of a torturous tease.

It could be described as Pixies without the punk – sorry, Frank, but it’d be remiss not to compare and contrast. NonStopErotik bears little of the abstract parenthesis and structural inventiveness exhumed since Blue Fingers and primarily is founded on creamy synths, strings, bar-band piano and acoustic guitar. Yet the guitar-based threesome of ‘Corrina’, live favourite ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ and the unruly, Latino-flavoured ‘Six-Legged Man’ is vaguely insipid – three unremarkable examples of retrofied country-rock the likes of which the world has too much of already. This melodiously bullet-proof songcraft plain begs to be disfigured into inverted forms, Pixies-style. The result is a nostalgic longing for Kim’s portentous bass, which was the perfect primer for the lysergic caterwaul of Joey’s Les Paul, which would talk in tongues over Frank’s climactic exorcism scene. They’re so missed as animators to Franks’ songs. It’s like scratching with the fingers of an amputated limb – the narcotic buzz of indie’s favourite dysfunctional family is within touching distance.

However, in true Pixies fashion the songs are pretty girls with bad breath; they contrast squeamish subject matter with cute melodies. The lyrical content comes from the quintessential Creepy Frank persona that earned him so much taboo-breaking subversive power and outsider menace. It might have arrived swaddled in the most cheeringly altruistic pop music that underground-America ever gave the world, but there was a Fuck You in there somewhere, even if it was derived from merely being the weirdest corn-bred sociopath since Jerry Lee Lewis.

Crucially though, on NSE the psychologically piercing content and mutant Americana are imbued with a fairytale-like quality. ‘Rabbits’ epitomises the beatific side to the Alt-behemoth – part Catholics-era Frank and partly the style of the guy who wrote ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ‘Bird Man Of Olympus’ – who seems peaceful, dreamy and lacking the compulsion to position surreally transgressive imagery as an artistic spring-board to palsied anarchy. The languid ‘Rabbits’ is cadaverously ominous yes, but much like much of NSE it’s bereft of that delicious insidious spirit. Once upon a time an angular velocity would desecrate the mid-tempo lethargy here, the dynamics would be electro-convulsive and the textures cracked and lined, all in the name of fashioning a nightmarish farce. For example ‘When I Go Down On You’ has to be the only timeless, majestically romantic, piano-led power-balled about cunnilingus in music history, and the subtext of oedipal desire on the title track is carried in on Frank’s very own ‘Wonderful Tonight’. Lovingly he tells her he wants to be "inside / all the way inside" – the return to the womb. Well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and is it skin crawling? Yes. Good song-writing? Definitely. Punk Rock? No.

Charles Thompson’s nineteenth solo offering should attract a raft of new acolytes. But hopefully from there they’ll back-trace themselves into the ecstatic embrace of the diabolically sublime – Bossanova, Doolittle and curiouser and curiouser until the Vagina Dentata that is Surfer Rosa beckons, which the original Black Francis made carnate as easily as exhaling; a song-writing genius of the kind that guitar music only sees about once a decade. Now, will somebody, for God’s sake, call Albini.

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