Frank Black - Fastman / Raiderman
Frank Black can be a pain in the proverbial. You just can't trust him to be consistent in anything. Reforming the Pixies after an extended hiatus, releasing some great music with his Catholics band and yet, just at the back of your mind, there's that feeling that he's not quite got the hand of quality control. For every good album he's released post-Pixies there's been one that makes you recoil in hate. So, after releasing an album of rather understated beauty in last years Honeycomb he's managed to follow it up with a bloated mess of an album. This shouldn't really surprise us.
Of course, the first thing that strikes your about this album is the sheer mass of it - 27 tracks spread over two discs and clocking in at over one and a half hours. I'm not scared by double albums, I like them. However, the material has to be strong enough to last the distance. The new Red Hot Chili Peppers album is the case in point - too few tunes spread too thinly. The worse thing about the Frank Black album is that there are not even that many tunes.
With the majority of the record being made in Nashville (the rest in Los Angeles) and considering the choice of players on board; Levon Helm from The Band, Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick and Steve Ferrone the drummer from the Heartbreakers to name a few, it's not surprising that the sound of this record is predominately Americana with touches of Country-Rock. Gone are the aggressive guitar solos and Black's trademark scream. Unfortunately the whole album proceeds under a dreary atmosphere and is delivered at such a ponderous pace that it doesn't take much for you to reach for the skip button. With the talent he's got at his disposal here it's amazing that the arrangements sound so flat and lifeless. Even Black's normally forceful vocals sound haphazard and half-arsed, drawling each line as if he doesn't really care if we listen to him or not. What I don't quite understand is that Black wanted this album to be harder than the understated "Honeycomb". I just don't hear it at all - the edges normally associated with him have been smoothed out and removed.
The highlights are few and far between on the first disc and I really struggled to make it through in one sitting. Disc two, however is at least sime improvement. Kicking off with In The time Of My Ruin, this is a jaunty little number that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the "Show Me Your Tears" Catholics album, with a nice piano line and a cheeky guitar line that descends into a country-rock solo at the end, Blacks vocals back to his gruff best. Down To You is another song with plenty of urgency ushered in with acoustic guitar and keyboards that isn't too far away from sounding like The Boss in this prime. But there's also some howlers on here as well; Sad Old World is boarder line Dire Straits at their very worse - all soft-jazz saxophones and slide guitar, it really just made me reach for the skip button.
An album then that's very hard to enjoy and, what makes it even worse, is that Frank Black is rather proud of it. Recent interviews have indicated that he's at his happiest and most prolific at the moment. Let's just hope someone pisses him off before the next Pixies record.