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Blast Off

You better sit down boys
This may come as a shock
Cause all I listen to
It’s all freedom rock

-- Frank Black “Freedom Rock” from Teenager of the Year

What, he's not creating a whole new subgenre of rock? Well why listen then?

8,338 out of 10,000

Maybe because it's a good album full of Rock songs done quite well. After creating alt-rock with The Pixies and making geek rock respectable on his first solo record and the brilliant Teenager of The Year, Frank Black hiccupped with the Cult of Ray, and he’s been obstinately holding his breath trying to recover since. After two intermittently improving records with the Catholics, Dog in the Sand is a wonderful exhalation.

Black delves hard into Stones territory this time out, but he is too much of an original to not to sound unique and distinctly American. Dog in the Sand shows the former Mr. Francis in fine form, very comfortable with his very lo-fi (I can’t tell it’s live to a two track) production and in his very swinging straight up Rock and Roll band, the Catholics. The return of Joey Santiago on some tracks signals more the rapprochement of old friends than a return to Pixie form. Frank Black is plowing on ahead.

When he was in the Pixies, he called himself Black Francis. Now it's Frank Black. Should he form a new band or somehow need to reinvent himself again, what name might he change to? Here are some potential new names for Frank Black. See if you can come up with some of your own!

Francesco Negro

Franky Blacky

Shirley Temple Black

F-Blo

Jimmy Rainbowswirls

Charles Francis Kitteridge Black III

A nice device on the old standards such as “A Foggy Day In London Town” and “September Song” is the introduction, which serves a pleasant, ambling melody that has nothing to do with the rest of the song other than to set up the story. Black delivers the only rock and roll introduction I can think of, before tearing into “Blast Off” one of the Stonesy numbers. Of course, I don’t envision Mr. Jagger singing, “I’m in a Becket trance”. Fortunately, by the end on the seven-minute rock stomp, Frank’s “…wearing Becket’s pants”. Glorious nonsense.

Black revels in a Jaggeresque drawl on “I’ve Seen Your Picture”. His voice hops through the chorus like a skipping record awards the end of the number. It’s as if the song is wrapping around and overwhelming him. It’s a great trick, though this album isn’t much about tricks as being overwhelmed by Rock and Roll.

“Stupid Me” accomplishes something Frank Black has been trying to his entire solo career, which is to write a sincere song of love lost. He’s embarrassed himself in the past, but here he loses himself in the ‘50’s style arrangement and comes up with gold.

Still, this is a Frank Black album, with its obscure references and abstruse lyrics. He has never sounded more emotional than on “The Swimmer”, seemingly about someone who may have developed gills. “Hermaphroditos” is a dual sexed god, but I have no idea what the song is about. It does rock, though.

Dog in The Sand will no doubt be seen as more important a record after Black has completed his arc, and we’re less obsessed with “importance” than with quality. I could see Frank Black ending up as a Dylan type figure, dogged by his earlier successes, but doggedly going forward to releasing a difficult body of works, with flashes of excellence such as this.

-Dan Kilian

 

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