Black Francis Review For The Quietus

In theory the revelatory NonStopErotik should be just cause to finally evaluate a Frankie B. solo experiment on its own merits and do the man’s efforts some justice. After over a decade of pottering around on the periphery with an air of janitorial resignation, without a doubt his latest houses the greatest number of memorable tunes ever amassed on a FB/BF release. If not sensational this deserves to turn heads, certifiably a coup in the consistency and relevancy stakes for our master marvel of modern music.

However, after the cleft-lipped Svn Fingers was hacked up like a toxic fur-ball in 2008, replete with Pixie-checking tropes and a Deal-ian cut in the shape of ‘Garbage Heap’, our appetite for antic violence was duly excited. For the redoubtable Charlie T to emerge with nine archetypal Pixies melodies with instant replay value but shorn of Punk-experimental malintent, is nothing short of a torturous tease.

Routinely contrasting squeamish subject matter with cute melodies, in true Pixies fashion the songs are pretty girls with bad breath. The lyrical content is quintessential Creepy Frank where historically he’s gleaned much of his taboo-breaking subversive power and outsider menace. It might have arrived swaddled in the most cheeringly altruistic pop music underground-America ever gave the world, but there was a Fuck You in there somewhere, even if it was derived from merely being the weirdest corn-bred sociopath since Jerry Lee Lewis.

Crucially though, on NSE the psychologically piercing content and mutant Americana are imbued with a fairytale-like quality. ‘Rabbits’ epitomises the beatific side to the Alt-behemoth – part Catholics-era Frank and partly the style of the guy who wrote ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ‘Bird Dream Of Olympus’ – who seems on NSE peaceful, dreamy and lacking the compulsion to position surreally transgressive imagery as an artistic spring-board to palsied anarchy. The languid ‘Rabbits’ is cadaverously ominous yes, but much like much of NSE it’s bereft of that delicious spirit of insidiousness. Once upon a time an angular velocity would desecrate the mid-tempo lethargy here, the dynamics electro-convulsive and the textures cracked and lined. All in the name of fashioning a nightmarish farce, but ‘When I Go Down On You’, has to be only timeless, majestically romantic, piano-led power-balled about cunnilingus in music history, and the subtext of oedipal desire on the title track is carried in on Frank’s very own ‘Wonderful Tonight’. Lovingly he tells her he wants to be ‘inside / all the way inside” – the return to the womb. Well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and is it skin crawling? Yes. Good song-writing? Definitely. Punk Rock? No.

So, Pixies without the punk, maybe. Sorry Frank but it’d be remiss not to compare and contrast. In fact its because the tunes are so good that there is cause to fantasise about what might have been had his latest been shaped in the same spirit as the genius pop-smithery on the Pixies’ albums. But NSE bears little of the abstract parenthesis and structural inventiveness exhumed since Blue Fingers and primarily is founded on creamy synths, strings, bar-band piano and acoustic guitar. Albeit snarl-y and scraggily ‘College Rock’, the guitar-based threesome of ‘Corrina’, live favourite ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ and the unruly ‘Six-Legged Man’ is vaguely insipid – three unremarkable examples of retrofied drive-time country-rock the likes of which the world has too much of already. Melodically its bullet-proof but they plain beg to be disfigured into inverted forms, Pixies-style. Nostalgic longing encroaches for Kim’s portentous bass, which was the perfect primer for the lysergic caterwaul of Joey’s Les Paul, which would talk in tongues over Frank’s climactic exorcism scene. They’re so missed as animators to Franks’ songs. Its like scratching an amputated limb – the narcotic buzz of indie’s favourite dysfunctional family is within touching distance.

His 19th solo offering should attract a raft of new Charles Thompson acolytes. But hopefully from there they’ll back-trace themselves into the ecstatic embrace of the diabolically sublime – Bossanova, Doolittle and curiouser and curiouser until the Vagina Dentata that is Surfer Rosa beckons, which the original Black Francis made carnate as easily as exhaling; a song-writing genius of the kind that guitar music only sees about once a decade. Now, will somebody, for God’s sake, call Albini. John Calvert

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