Black Francis – [Album]

Friday, 12 October 2007

What has gotten into Frank Black? In fact, where is Frank Black? What sort of event occurred in this man’s life to cause him to revert to the Black Francis moniker of bygone days, put down his Fender Telecaster and dramatically pace back and forth across the stage, shouting into the mic during his most recent performances, like a man possessed by a spirit of fire? Could it be the ghost and essence of Herman Brood? I don’t know, but I like it. Type “Black Francis” in YouTube’s search box and you’ll get a handful of live video performances of songs from his latest 11-track album called Bluefinger. Without a single Catholic in sight, Black Francis has a new lineup featuring Jason Carter on drums, Dan Schmid on bass, some dude on guitar and Violet Clark on vocals. Seeing Black Francis perform his songs without a guitar in his hands is really strange but also really cool because, sans guitar, he’s able to concentrate on focusing that powerful voice of his into sheer Black Franciscan intensity.

Bluefinger is definitely one of those albums that take a few spins to get. But once you get it, the song structures reveal some of their clever secrets and a little voice in your head should say “Oh, now that’s interesting.” Black Francis employs a songwriting device almost unique to him alone that I haven’t heard since the last Pixies album. It’s the equivalent of his own literary device where he writes a song and the verses and choruses repeat a couple of times just like any other song, followed by a series of transition chords. And the next thing you know, the song has seamlessly morphed into something totally different, usually in a different key, without ever coming back to the original chorus or verse. It’s kind of like a musical magic trick. A perfect example of this can be found on a track from the Pixies’ Trompe Le Monde album called “The Sad Punk.” On Bluefinger, Black pulls this off on track 6 called “Angels Come to Comfort You.” The song is about a Dutch musician and artist named Herman Brood who ended up committing suicide by jumping off the famous Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam. The song begins with a series of chords, primarily in the key of C, consisting of a normal verse and chorus that will eventually set up the transition chords which happen to be a G sharp to a D major to an E flat and all of a sudden you’re in a different key, practically listening to a different song. It’s the coolest thing ever. Black is such a seasoned songwriter, he can even match the lyrical content of the song to the music so that they each describe and compliment one another. In the case of “Angels Come to Comfort You,” the listener can envision Herman Brood falling through the air, accompanied by the angels, which are musically represented by the key change and the beautiful operatic vocal melody that ends the song. It’s really moving.

Bluefinger is a nice mix of Catholics-era Frank Black and Pixies-era Black Francis, inspired by the tragic figure of Herman Brood who was a remarkable piano player. One of my favorite tracks on the album is a Herman Brood cover called “You Can’t Break a Heart and Have it.” I can see why Black Francis was inspired and attracted to this particular track. First, it changes key twice in the middle of the song and second, it has female backing vocals that would have been perfect for Kim Deal, but instead were sung by Violet Clark who oddly enough sounds a bit like Kim Deal on this track. Black was so inspired by Herman Brood he says, “As I prepared for the (recording) session, I became honestly gripped by the spirit of Herman Brood, and my bonus track expanded into an 11-song record called Bluefinger in just a few days. Thank you Herman. You were at the distant edge of my vision for years when suddenly I was under your influence like a cloud of opium, like the scent of the house of the rising sun.”

Bluefinger is now on Cooking Vinyl.

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