Frank Black, ‘Honeycomb’ (Back Porch/Virgin)
No man should have to scream forever. Except maybe Charles “Frank Black” Thompson, who could make a comfortable living doing nothing but spazzing out with his reconstituted Pixies on the nostalgia circuit. Admirably, though, he keeps trying to redefine his solo work. The tinkering began with last year’s Frank Black Francis — a tolerable if somewhat pointless reimagining of Pixies classics — and takes a wide left turn with Honeycomb.
Like Bob Dylan before him, Thompson traveled to Nashville to reinvent himself. He gives his throat a break on this subdued little disc, possibly a measure of deference to the heavyweight studio cats — Stax’s Steve Cropper, Muscle Shoals’ Spooner Oldham and David Hood — who flat-out nail every one of his brooding melodies. Or maybe he’s coming to grips with passing the big four-oh and becoming a dad. Either way, the unlikely collaboration produces a languid indie-rock/Southern-soul hybrid that’s not completely jarring, though it does flirt with the blahs at times.
More intriguing is Thompson’s newfound emotional availability. Yeah, he sings about mermaids and hammers out some of the perverted religious imagery he could write in his sleep, but “My Life Is in Storage” is a touching account of moving into a new place after his first marriage disintegrates, unpacking “leashes for my hounds” and “speakers for my sounds.” “Strange Goodbye” is just that, a slightly creepy duet with ex-wife Jean that contrasts nicely with a later portrait of new wife Violet, in an eponymous song that salutes her as a “flower of fertility.” (Thanks, honey.)
There’s some irony in the fact that by abandoning music that prizes honesty and emotion for square adult-contemporary rock that rewards showmanship and polish, indie forefather Thompson has finally hit on something that gives his solo career a pulse. Alternately goofy, sweet, and weird, Honeycomb’s a fine welcome to Charles Thompson, adult. Nice to see you, big man.