Black Francis vs Frank Black
Coming on the heels of the 25th anniversary re-release of the Pixies’ Doolittle, Cooking Vinyl is releasing a comprehensive retrospective of Black Francis’ other project, Frank Black & the Catholics. The seven disc set covers everything the band ever put out plus some unreleased tracks. Interestingly, this is not just a box set of Frank Black & the Catholics albums, arranged chronologically. Rather, the songs have been ordered alphabetically, like an automatic shuffle feature. Unfortunately, the interesting (but really, how interesting is alphabetization?) tracking can’t make up for the fact that Frank Black & the Catholics never produced particularly interesting music.
They were an eclectic band, so in that regard this retrospective isn’t short on novelty. There is the country pop/rock of “Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day” (a simple melody, slide guitars in the background) which, in a word, is nice. Then there’s the sloppy early 2000s post punk of “Black Letter Day.” It sounds cheesy listening back, although it probably sounded fresh at the time. The R.E.M. vibe they seem to have been going for simply doesn’t hold up well. Fortunately, you also get tracks like “Fields of Marigold,” which find Black Francis sounding more like his Pixies self – with odd spoken parts and quirky but earnest guitar work – than the watered down version of himself he presents on much of the Frank Black material.
The big problem with so much of Frank Black & the Catholics’ output is that Black Francis sounds less like a weirdo playing it straight, which is what he is, than a straight-edge guy trying to be weird, aside from the few standout tracks. The result is that each song sounds merely mundane, nicely crafted and performed, which would be great for most other groups, but we should all, perhaps unfairly, expect more from Black Francis – or worse, tracks sound contrived and mundane.
For die hard fans, this might be a worthwhile purchase. The production is nice, the tracking is cool (although, unless buying a vinyl copy, shuffle is easily achievable anyways) and there’s a number of new songs. For anyone else, skip this record and pick out the songs worth hanging onto, namely, the ones that sound the most like the Pixies.