Friday, 25 May 2007

Album Review: 93-03 The Best Of Frank Black

A two-disc chronological anthology of Frank Black's work covering the Pixies' front man's nine solo albums recorded during the title's time period, which includes a bonus CD of live tracks recorded during Black's 2006 North American tour, as well as a brand new Black Francis track, Threshold Apprehension, taken from his forthcoming album, Bluefinger.

Black's solo recordings always demonstrated artistic restlessness, as he embraced alternative pop and avant-garde rock with equal fervor. This was territory he explored further with his band, The Catholics, for several years before journeying to Nashville to create 2005's critically-acclaimed Honeycomb with producer Jon Tiven, before the similar, but more intense, Fast Man Raider Man in 2006.

As for the tracks, there is bound to be disagreement as to what are the essential tracks in a catalogue as vast as Black's, but by and large, 93-03 feels as right as it could ever be.

Los Angeles has lost none of the spacey, metallic bite it had when it introduced Frank Black as a solo performer to the world in 1993, and nor has the Stooges-esque Ten Percenter, also from Black's self-titled solo debut.

The straightforward saccharine melodies of I Want To Live On An Abstract Plain from Teenager Of The Year are still as sweet as they were over a decade ago. Black's most creative love song, Speedy Marie, (the first letter of each line in the song's second half spells out his girlfriend's name) is also included, as is the tightly written, strummy and wonderful Headache. The driving, anthemic Freedom Rock remains one of the Black's more ambitious tracks and Men In Black is still an interesting piece from the unfairly derided The Cult Of Ray.

All My Ghosts and I Gotta Move from the first Catholics album, offers a fix of straight-up garage punk, stripped of all the odd time signatures, subverted chord progressions, cryptic lyrics, and sonic experimentation that had previously been Black's trademarks. Western Star from Pistolero and Robert Onion from Dog In The Sand mark a return to the ambitious, subversive style with the latter a distant cousin to Freedom Rock.

The cryptically confessional California Bound from Black Letter Days also merits inclusion and the fun, easygoing vibe of Black's eighth album, Devil's Workshop, is exemplified by Velvety, a version of the Pixies' B-side Velvety Instrumental Version (and one of the first songs that Black ever wrote) with additional silly lyrics. Massif Central, from Show Me Your Tears, is conspicuous by the angry repetition of "please don't run away" among the bouncy and angular guitars.

Black himself admits to being sheepish when approached by the idea of releasing a greatest hits album, but 93-03 is a great place to start for those embarking on a journey through Black's post-Pixies career for the first time. In fact, far from a mere curiosity, the schizophrenic tracklist ensures it's the perfect abridgement of his first nine albums.

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