Frank Black Francis, ‘Frank Black Francis’ (spinArt)
This double CD’s first volume is easy enough to understand. It’s a collection of demos by Charles Thompson, who later became Black Francis and later became Frank Black. It was recorded in 1987, the day before his band the Pixies went into the studio to make their first record, Come on Pilgrim. And for the type of fan who names his dog Crackity Jones, that will be recommendation enough. It’s a kick to hear Thompson racing through a skeletal version of “Caribou,” strumming manically and adding note-to-self asides like “This is a song I want to sound like Hüsker Dü.” Still, the scant differences between these versions and those that landed on subsequent Pixies records imply that the tunes had mostly been worked out already, making this more of a last-minute run-through than a revelatory rough draft.
Disc Two requires more explaining. So as not to leave fans who bought the demos feeling “a bit ripped-off,” Thompson says in the liner notes, he teamed up with the eclectic British trumpet-and-MIDI duo Two Pale Boys (best known for their work with David Thomas of Pere Ubu, a major Francis forebear) to re-record a passel of Pixies classics. These reimaginings-including a particularly nice “Wave of Mutilation”-unlock some interesting textures suggested by Thompson’s still-scratchy vocals. What doesn’t make sense is Thompson’s customer-servicey explanation of the remakes. He and the other Pixies were well on their way to reuniting by the time he headed to London to make these recordings, if his interview with this magazine was correct. Perhaps a better motivation is indicated by the lyrics to “I’ve Been Tired,” in which a young Thompson expresses a desire to emulate a certain recording artist whose compulsive tinkering with his back catalog makes George Lucas seem like a preservationist. “I wanna be a singer like Lou Reed,” Thompson panted on that track. For better or worse, he got his wish.