We conclude our Frank Black week with
a look at two Frank Black classics. Zane tells us why "Teenager of the
Year" is an overlooked gem and Patrick tells us why "The Cult of Ray,"
(Frank's tribute to Ray Bradbury) stands as his favorite album even produced
by Mr. Black.
Teenager of the Year
By Zane Ewton
Frank Black spent most of the 1990's touring
the country in a van with his band the Catholics. The Pixies never had
it much better in their day, but as fate would have it, the Pixies have
become alternative rock legends. Their name being noted by any band that
has mattered since; not to mention countless bands who don't matter.
Maybe it was the way the Pixies broke up,
allegedly by faxed message, which may have created some ill will towards
the former Black Francis. The man went on to create some fantastic solo
records that demonstrated more range and taste than any of the Pixies releases.
It is a wonder why Kim Deal's Breeders are considered the biggest post-Pixies
success with one song from an uneven album while Black has been able to
play the music he wants, they way he wants to.
It is a crime that an album like Teenager
of the Year wasn't a smash hit in the musical climate of 1994. Now,
some ten years later, the Pixies have reunited and Black continues making
the records he wants to make. How many artists are given the opportunity
to appease the fans and their own ambition at the same time?
Teenager of the Year is one of those
rare rock records that has so many good and strikingly different songs
that it can be played backwards and forwards without losing any steam.
Black is able to ruminate on topics as diverse as the video game Pong or
the history of Los Angeles' water system. Black's influences aren't necessarily
worn on his sleeve but ingrained into the fabric, becoming a totally different
brand of rock music. That is what made the Pixies records so good, the
classic feel matched with noises and ideas that you have never heard before.
Songs like "Thallassocracy" and "Headache"
are immediate attention grabbers while other tracks like "The Vanishing
Spies" or "Big Red" have such a mellow aloofness that they just float by
on a cloud. The songs are all so brief that in some cases they are over
before they even get started. For Yngwie Malmsteen fans, the brevity of
the compositions would be unacceptable but for fans of just the meat (no
time for potatoes) of a song, they will be elated with so much of this
Teenager of the Year is an overlooked
gem. Considering the hubbub surrounding the Pixies, people tend to underestimate
that Frank Black is one of the best and most effective songwriters of the
last 20 years. Preview
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The Cult Of Ray
By Patrick Muldowney
Most Pixies/Frank Black fans may not respect
this opinion, but The Cult of Ray, which is about a decade from
birth, stands as my favorite products in the decorated life of Frank Black.
Of course, I am also the heretic who would tend to choose a Frank Black
album over a Pixies album. Part of my love for this album may relate back
to memories of college, but even years from its last listen (I'm more a
Pistolero guy now), I distinctly remember how much the album rocked right
through to the "The Last Stand of Shazeb Andleeb", an emotional masterpiece
which immediately tugged on the androgyny in us all.
Titled as a tribute to Ray Bradbury, the
illumination of Frank Black's Mr. Clean head during the promotion of this
album was surreal. I will never forget betraying Heidegger to watch Frank
Black make an appearance on MTV's 120 Minutes (I'll save my diatribe on
the decline of MTV for another day), which was hosted by Matt Pinfield,
another baldy who now pretends introducing Pussycat Dolls videos is fun
on VH1. They looked like two bulbous bowling ball twins seated next to
each other, but other than the fact they would have made a solid WWE tag
team, this was the most memorable interview I've ever witnessed. Pinfield,
who is a rock encyclopedia, was so smitten by the presence of Frank Black
he kept staring at him longingly throughout the interview, and was coming
dangerously close to invading his personal space. My roommate and I were
placing bets on when Pinfield might smother him in chunky love. As he played
an acoustic version of "The Last Stand…", which took the form of a love
song that night, Mr. P looked like a school girl in the eighties dreaming
away to Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting".
"Kicked in the Taco" may be my favorite
Frank Black song. I often find myself recalling the opening lines, "Today
at the New Morrocco/I got kicked in the taco/All I saw were stars," and
realizing the universality of this feeling. All the way to the unexpected
outro of "You got my message of love," this is a delectable treat that
is too witty to be simply humorous. That is the wonder of Frank Black.
If Adam Sandler sang some of his songs they would make great standup material,
but when the artist formerly known as Black Francis sings he encompasses
a whole other world, which makes a perfect bedfellow for the sci-fi adventure
of The Cult of Ray.
This classic album has been oversimplified
by critics throughout the years who consider The Pixies to be doctoral
material, but rock is basic when you break down the false complexities
these idiots have created, and regardless of Frank Black's more or less
artsy material, he has a signature approach that is celebrated here.
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