Frank Black – [Album]

Monday, 13 August 2007

It’s no surprise that a songwriter as legendary and prolific as Frank Black, aka Black Francis, aka Charles Thompson, needed to put out a greatest hits record. Undeniably one of the hardest working and original musicians on earth, the man is a songwriting machine. Frank Black’s greatest hits CD set titled Frank Black 93–03 is only on 2 CDs. Disc 1 is composed of 22 tracks spanning 9 albums and disc 2 contains 9 various live tracks. If I had the daunting task of compiling the greatest hits project, I’d have put it on 3 CDs easily. Hell, Frank’s 1994 album Teenager of the Year, which I consider to be a perfect album, contains 22 mind-blowing tracks, all worthy of greatest hits status. Merely fitting his stuff on 2 CDs is like taking a kid to Toys “R” Us and telling him he can have everything in the store but he can only put the contents of the store in one shopping cart. Nevertheless, 93–03 is a fine start for anyone willing to explore the genius of Frank Black.

93–03 begins with FB’s most recognizable track, “Los Angeles,” from his first self-titled album released after the demise of the Pixies. It’s interesting to note that Black’s post-Pixies vocal style begins to change in his solo work as his voice deepens and we begin hear less of the famous hair-raising screams and shouts that characterized his Pixies songs. Song structures also begin to change with quirkier chord progressions which get even quirkier and intricate as you move into songs from 1994’s Teenager of the Year. “Abstract Plain” is 93–03’s introduction to the Teenager of the Year collection. Just as the title implies, this song is as abstract musically as a plein air portrait is abstract visually. At this point, it should become clear to the listener that FB’s songwriting is as original and unique as it gets.

Moving further along into the Teenager of the Year sessions, you’ll come across one of the best love songs ever written. Free of the typical cheese and tired cliché sentiments of a typical love song, “Speedy Marie” is one of those poetically perfect lyrical gems that happens to be set on top of brilliant music. Reading the lyrics along with the music is a must in order to get the complete impact of this track. Any songwriter who wants to write a proper love song should consult and study “Speedy Marie” first before attempting the love song theme, to avoid writing the typical self-centered, adolescent, dear diary puke that makes up the majority of love songs.

“Men in Black” leads off a trio of songs from FB’s 1996 Cult of Ray Album. In this track, it seems that FB revisits some of the UFO-type themes found in the Pixies Tromp Le Monde album. Known as what critics call FB’s weakest album, The Cult of Ray is a spacey mixture of songs that to me, mark the end of FB’s oddity-type songs and begins a whole new, more classic rock ‘n’ roll sound by shifting gears and reinventing himself completely.

“All my Ghosts” and “I Gotta Move” represent FB’s 1998 album titled Frank Black and the Catholics. Now joined by a talented group of musicians known as the Catholics, FB’s sound and style evolve toward a raw brand of rock ‘n’ roll chunk not heard on any other previous FB albums. FB even changes the way he makes records. Frank Black and the Catholics and Pistolero were recorded live onto 2-track tape as a full band. It’s rare for any band to attempt something like this because of the skill level involved, but this is Frank Black we’re talking about here. With the Catholics behind him, the most notable being guitarist Rich Gilbert, FB’s live performances are nothing short of amazing. Rich Gilbert contributes lead-guitar work that adds so much texture to the Pistolero tracks. 93–03 features “Bad Harmony” and “Western Star” from the Pistolero sessions which happen to be two of my favorite Pistolero tracks.

The tail end of 93–03 marks a series of songs that demonstrate FB’s ability to evolve even further. Songs like “Hermaphroditos” and “California Bound” feature over-driven pedal steel guitar solos and keyboard arrangements that hint toward the bluesy country road to Memphis that FB will head down on the albums Devil’s Workshop, Black Letter Days, and Show Me Your Tears. Overall, Frank Black 93–03 is a nice group of songs that showcase FB’s skills and talents as one of rock’s most innovative and influential songwriters. 93–03 is a must have for any fan of good music.

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