Ever since Frank Black ditched the surrealism of Surfer Rosa for songwriting on Doolittle, tthere’s been a slow, subtle and unavoidable decrease in the number of capital-A melodies in every Pixies album after. It follows, then, that when Frank Black’s first solo album would just continue with that trajectory, and if you don’t believe me, compare the melody of “Hang On To Your Ego” – a surf rock-ified cover of the Beach Boys’ song (better known as “I Know There’s an Answer”) – to the melody of any other song here. Yeah, a couple of exceptions exist. “Los Angeles” starts acoustically before entering into a LOUD section as if Frank Black was trying to take back to quiet-loud dynamic shifts that Nirvana popularized years before. But the song doesn’t stop shifting there: the guitars and drums enter a headfirst metallic chug that leads into spacier (in both senses of the word) pastures that recalls Bossanova or Trompe le monde, after returning us into the acoustic section with synthesized violins. Then, there’s “I Heard Ramona Sing,” which might be Frank Black’s most well-known song outside of the Pixies; it was included on the Scott Pilgrim vs. the Worldsoundtrack. Good intro, good choruses, decent guitar solo. These exceptions happen within the album’s opening stretch. Umm … after that, I like the playful intro to “Places Named After People.”
Look: nothing here’s bad that I would want to shut it off, but if I want Frank Black’s surrealism, I can always replay the Pixies albums; they have a lot of replay value. And if I want to listen to the songs in the style of They Might Be Giants, I can always replay the They Might Be Giants albums; they have a lot of replay value (speaking of which, John Linnell shows up to play saxophone on “Fu Manchu,” and without him, I probably would not remember the song at all). Oh, and the lyrics continue in the vein of Bossanova and Trompe le monde, as in, they don’t mean shit to anyone not named Frank Black.
If it means anything, I think this is ever so slightly better than the Breeders’ album that same year (though “Cannonball” blows anything here out the water, which is surprising because Kim Deal was never as talented as Frank Black was) and I think this is more listenable than Frank Black’s Teenager of the Year, which often gets named as the best album in his solo career. The opening 3 song stretch here easily matches whatever 3 songs you bring me from that record, and this one’s a lot easier going down (15 songs at 46 minutes versus 22 songs at 63 minutes on that one).
To close, I’ll just defer to Robert Christgau: “[T]hough the Pixies had more slash and burn than any art band between Husker Du and Nirvana, Fran sorely needed the musicianship of Joey Santiago and, I like to think, the sweet humanizing gravity of Kim Deal. On his own he’s generated plenty of tune, plenty of ‘tude, yet seemed silly anyway.” Yup. In fact, that’s so on point that I might copy paste that at the end of every review I write for a Frank Black album.