By Joseph Viney
If Neil Young is the much vaunted ‘Godfather Of Grunge’ then Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black, real name Charles Michael Kittridge Thomson IV) must be at least an uncle. As leader of the inspirational Pixies, Black’s iconic nails-on-a-blackboard voice, twisted guitar hooks and demented lyrics set the blueprint for albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind; penned by self-confessed Pixies obsessive Kurt Cobain. With the Pixies now reduced to nothing more than a touring heritage act dispensing the same old set night after night, Black’s solo albums are where he nurtures his undeniable talent.
Nonstoperotik is Francis’ 18th album since his initial hiatus from the Pixies and his metamorphosis into Frank Black & The Catholics. It comes after the red-hot and critically lauded LPs Bluefinger and Svn Fngrs, released in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Francis, as ever, is in full creative flight and it shows. Perhaps it is a backlash from having to play the same old songs with the Pixies for his beer money.
Carried by a constant momentum, Francis has not lost any of the nervous energy that shuddered through the records that made him famous; Doolittle, Trompe Le Monde and Surfer Rosa. Stop-start guitars, chugging bass and tight, efficient drumming are littered across Nonstoperotik, but somehow, somewhere, a lighter side rears its head. Whisper it, but the man who once so famously and deliriously howled about “…slicing up eyeballs” in Pixies’ certified indie classic Debaser all those years ago now appears to be in the mood for lurrrve.
With songs so eloquently named as When I Go Down On You, soaring strings and a tender, emotional and cracked voice on tracks like Oh, My Tidy Sum, you could be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Francis is trying to use his powers for the forces of good and coerce some lucky strumpet into his bed. Then just as you think you may have lost a hero to doe-eyed romanticism, he quickly changes tack and unleashes some typical hell with short, sharp punk blasts of Rocket USA, Corrina and Six Legged Man.
Thus, a schizophrenic mood permeates. Lovey-dovey one minute, snarling animal the next. As ever he sounds like a man on the edge. This is vintage Francis. In between all of this he manages to squeeze in some modern country rock with Dead Man’s Curve, piano led ballad Nonstoperotik and a song that sounds like it was stolen from the hands of Sonic Youth in Wild Son.
Co-produced with long-time collaborator Eric Drew Feldman, the album is thankfully missing a slick pop sheen. It’s not a scruffy record by any stretch but at times there are notable imperfections kept in that work perfectly well. Organised chaos, you just can’t beat it.
However, in many instances his lyrics move away from the tried-and-tested surrealist construction and into a more conventional and boy-girl dynamic led routine. It would be a mistake to disparage the album based upon this, as Francis is able to conjure up good story-telling as well as he does with his darker, more fragmented lyrics. All of this augmented with a number of different vocal styles splattered across the album; crooning, screaming and yearning.
Despite everything, Francis is not due to escape the shadow of the Pixies for a long while yet. You suspect that he doesn’t care. He ploughs his own furrow unchecked, able to indulge himself. Then he goes to his day job as Frank Black of the Pixies. It would appear that this little arrangement has afforded him more financial stability and creative freedom than his contemporaries.
8.5 OUT OF 10