September 19, 2002

A Red Letter Day that Turns Black

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Dear Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black),

I write to you as an admirer and as a concerned music consumer. I am of the generation lucky enough to go beyond Nirvana and discover the Replacements, the Ramones, and of course your own marvelous Pixies. Nearly ten years since the demise of the Pixies and you’ve been quite busy releasing album after album of solo material (with or without the Catholics). Recently I heard you’ve released not one but two new albums. As a devoted fan I bought them and must say you did great, Frank. Or maybe just “very well.” The 29 new songs, as on your previous five or six albums, are all solid rock’n’roll recorded in your trademark fashion — live to two tracks with no overdubs. And I must say the Catholics are a fantastic backing band. There are enough surprises on these albums to feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Your choice of opening and closing Black Letter Days with two covers of Tom Waits’ “The Black Rider” is possibly one of the best and ballsiest moves ever, especially given that the Waits track is about as much a theatrical monologue as it is a song. Yet you pull it off with both the introductory fast paced rocker approach and the closing surf guitar version. The other 16 tracks on Black Letter Days are treats as well. I especially like the country-tinged numbers like the gorgeous “The Farewell Bend.” Just between you and I, the Zeppelin-esque riffing on “1826” for 6 and a half minutes gets to be a bit excessive, but overall the album feels like a fine traverse of all that is found on a jukebox at a good bar. Remnants of Van Morrison on “Southbound Bevy”, the Stones on “Chip Away Boy.” Dylan, Petty, Lennon — all the big boys are here all done well with your wicked humor and great lyrics. Your voice is sounding better than ever, trading the yelping of the Pixies for a pleasant falsetto. On Devil’s Workshop you return to the more rocking territory of Teenager of the Year. Less slide guitar, more distortion — here the Stones are mixed with the Ramones, instead of Gram Parsons. Damn Mr. Black; you’ve got quite an ear for melody. “Whiskey in Your Shoes” is such a catchy rocker. At 33 minutes, this is a great short album that sounds pretty similar throughout but is rescued by its brevity.

This brings me to my concern: the influence of the prolific artist such as yourself. Being prolific is a gift, but so is self-censorship. I mean the Pixies were so bad-ass precisely because there wasn’t much out there that was simultaneously so noisy and so melodic. I understand you grow up and mature beyond yelling, but you can play classic rock beyond fantastic imitations of the Stones. Lock yourself in that studio for three years and come out with the record that will make people forever look at Doolittle as simply an immature first step. Remember your fan base consists of music lovers whose CD collections often exceed a 1000; it’s mighty easy for a fine record to get lost in there and I’d hate for that to happen to the mighty Black Francis. It’s time to make Frank Black a household name.


Nick Fazoli Minneapolis, MN

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin