Put Up Your Dukes: Frank Black Vs. The Pixies

pixies550

Two of MAGNET’s Matts—editor Matthew Fritch and writer Matt Ryan—go to the mat to see whose opinion is more correct. Today’s topic: “Bone Machine” vs. Bluefinger, “Nimrod’s Son” vs. Teenager Of The Year, Black Francis vs. Frank Black. Put up your dukes!

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

I have to say, the Pixies reunion never sat well with me. The band certainly deserves all its posthumous acclaim and enduring popularity, but there’s something untoward about the summer-festival cash grabs. Plus, there’s the new boxed set, Minotaur, which should’ve been titled Gouge Away. I think the price tag reaches $450 if you get the edition with all the bells and whistles. Even if I wasn’t being the vintner at the Sour Grapes Winery where the Pixies making bank is concerned, I have a debate-worthy point to make: Frank Black’s body of solo work now surpasses the relatively brief spurt of creativity he experienced with the Pixies. From his output with the Catholics to Grand Duchy and back to Black Francis again, he’s become more diverse, a better songwriter and a better vocalist. What’s up with these fools clamoring to hear “Where Is My Mind?” for the umpteenth time?

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

First of all, “summer-festival cash grab” is a bit harsh. These guys aren’t the Eagles charging $150 per ticket so Don Henley can buy a third Ferrari. Did you see LoudQUIETLoud, the documentary about the Pixies reunion? Christ, until this tour, David Lovering was a real life Gob, doing magic tricks to eke out a living. And who the hell knows what Joey Santiago was doing to feed himself. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, you claim that Frank Black is still doing solo work? I stopped paying attention after his ’93 self-titled release, which included his only memorable post-Pixies tune, “Los Angeles” (remember that bitchin’ hovercraft?). I’m being facetious, of course. I’m aware of Mr. Black’s substantial solo catalog. I had to stop listening, however, due to extensive forehead bruising; I only get about two songs into the likes of Honeycomb and fall face down onto my desk in a state of catatonic boredom. Here’s a suggestion: Play the aforementioned record’s “Selkie Bride,” followed by Surfer Rosa’s “Bone Machine.” Compare. That should end this debate immediately.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

I’m glad you brought up LoudQUIETLoud. That was the documentary about four people who do not like to be in a room together, right? It bummed me out in the same way that End Of The Century did, learning that the Ramones—for me, the quintessential band unit, from the uniforms to the faux-brotherhood—mostly hated each other. Creative tension is one thing, but passive-aggressive dysfunction is painful to watch. I don’t have a comeback for your Honeycomb jab. Well, I sort of do—it’s called Bossanova and it’s almost 25 percent of the Pixies’ output. Honeycomb and Frank Black’s rootsy phase, circa 2002-2006, wasn’t my favorite, either, but there’s plenty of other discs on the shelf. I’ll save the gory details for an Over/Under piece, but Frank Black has made three great albums: Teenager Of The Year, Dog In The Sand and Petits Four (by Grand Duchy, his duo with wife Violet Clark). They’re all very different from each other—the first is a sprawling punk masterpiece, the second is surreal and Stonesy, and the third is synth-enabled pop—and they’re spread out over more than a decade. Sometimes it takes a while to get where you’re going. What kind of range did the Pixies have? Oh, we already mentioned it: loud, quiet, loud.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

I agree, the documentary was painful viewing. I hear Metallica’s therapist is available; maybe they should give him a call. Teenager Of The Year is a better than average rock n’ roll album. Punk? Not so much. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t remember what Dog In The Sand sounded like until I just pulled it off my shelf a few minutes ago. I suspect I listened to it a few times in 2000 when the CD came out and it has been collecting dust ever since. It’s certainly not a bad record, but there’s just not much here to keep a listener coming back (plus, I could rattle off 20 bands that have done a better job aping the Stones). I think part of the problem is that Charles Frank Black Francis Thompson actually tries to sing on his solo material. While he’s electrifying when screeching, moaning and shouting obscenities in Spanish, as a traditional singer, he’s positively narcotic (and not in a good way). Grand Douchey (did I spell that right?) suffers from the same affliction. Black’s and his wife’s tone-deaf crooning make for painful—and painfully boring—listening. Back to the Pixies, I’m not going to go on and on about how Bossanova was an underrated entry in their canon (mostly because I wasn’t crazy about it myself). Such a defense is unnecessary, however, as the strength of Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle render any other catalog nitpicking irrelevant. These were seminal releases, influencing countless bands. How many imitators has solo Frank Black spawned?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

“Grand Douchey.” You are on fire today! Yeah, Violet Clark doesn’t have the virtuoso pipes of, say, Kim Deal. And just so I have it straight: You think it’s bad that Frank Black sings well and you also deduct points because his wife sings poorly? Maybe you should get that bruise on your forehead checked out. Speaking of mental lapses, I meant to write “pop/punk” in reference to Teenager Of The Year. I think it was writer Dennis Cooper who extolled it as the greatest album of all time in one of his essays, but I could be mistaken. It’s not on the Internet, but you’ll just have to trust me that some people out there really like it. I’m sorry Frank Black’s solo material hasn’t spawned imitators the way the Pixies did: Bush, Veruca Salt, please don’t make me think of more. You might want to sit down for this next thing I’m going to point out, but … Frank Black is Black Francis! He sings the same way! Not all the time, but he still screeches, shouts and sings in Spanish. Until you give me a specific advantage the Pixies have over the solo stuff (an acceptable answer might be: “Joey Santiago’s surf-rock guitar”), I think you’re just hung up on the Pixies brand name or are too lazy to keep up with the apparently unfashionable Frank Black.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

I see that reading for comprehension isn’t your strong suit. Where did I say that Frank Black sings well? I said that I liked him better in the Pixies when he sang like a howler monkey with its tail caught in a blender. Although not a good singer in the traditional sense, Black Francis was never boring. (OK, so maybe he was a little bit boring on Bossanova.) And he doesn’t sing the same now; that’s my point. I defy you to name one song Frank Black has done in the past decade where his vocals resemble those of the Pixies era. As to the advantages you seek, yes, there’s Joey Santiago’s surf guitar. Kim Deal’s valley-girl vocals. David Lovering’s Herculean drumming (see “Something Against You” for reference). Memorable songs. Should I go on? And I told you, I’m trying to keep up with Frank Black, but he keeps putting me to sleep. So, to quote Black Francis, “You fuckin’ die!” Oh, P.S., with regard to Pixies imitators, you may have heard of a little band called Nirvana?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

Nirvana. Well played. Treat yourself to a sliced-up eyeball. Don’t you find the Pixies’ lyrics self-consciously “weird,” like the journal entries of a high-school goth who just discovered surrealism and all kinds of French stuff? You don’t have to answer that. I know you’ll counter with the fact that Frank Black once sang about UFOs or something. I’d like to point out that “Black Suit” from Grand Duchy’s album features some Black Francis screaming. I guess that didn’t wake you up from your suspended-animation Pixies coma. I may not have been able to help you here today, but maybe some readers out there will unchain themselves from the “Bone Machine” and check out what’s been happening the past two decades. Oh, and thanks for telling me to “fuckin’ die.” I didn’t think I’d get that kind of vitriol until my friends and family showed up in the comments section.

Comments are closed.