Is this the same Charles Thompson who fronted The Pixies and howled: “I wanna grow up to be / be a debaser”? Maybe. Although the name has changed, we’re definitely seeing a different side of the old Black Francis here.
“Honeycomb,” Frank Black’s latest solo effort, was recorded in Nashville with a bunch of veteran studio musicians and released on Back Porch Records in July of this year. Don’t go expecting the wails of the Pixies though. This one is a sentimental, mystical kind of disc – more laid back and still a little twisted.
The first track, “Selkie Bride,” is a love song a man sings to his selkie lover. (For those who aren’t up on their Gaelic mythology, a selkie is a mythical seal that takes human form.) It’s a languorous romantic plea for her not to return the sea, as selkies inevitably do. And he has a great line in it: “My lips will burn your skin / If you return again.” It gets you thinking about seals, the sea, and the futility of love.
The best tracks on the disc are “I Burn Today,” “Go Find Your Saint,’ and “Another Velvet Nightmare.” You can hear some Pixies in the catchy bass line that starts “Go Find Your Saint’ and in the rhythm that drives it.
“Another Velvet Nightmare” is a sweet song about a guy that loves a woman so much he even welcomes nightmares about her. “Here comes another nightmare of you again. / Another velvet nightmare come true again. / I should have seen it coming. / Oh, please don’t let it end, / My nightmare of you again.” It’s also about drinking too much and puking. We’ve all been there. Frank romanticizes it for us.
There’s a fairly respectable cover of “The Dark End of the Street.” It’s been covered by everyone from Dolly Parton to Percy Sledge, from Gregg Allman to Elvis Costello. Not my favorite song on the disc or anything but some might like it.
Black even covers that silly shrimp song that Elvis sang in “Girls, Girls, Girls.’ You know the one I mean – the one about the little shrimp that leaves home to find his “fortune” in Louisian’. It’s a kind of allegory about naïve young people leaving home. You know, using shrimp.
“Strange Goodbye” is an ironically upbeat duet about the end of a long relationship, maybe even a marriage. Guess who he sings it with? That’s right, his wife. Not for long, I guess. There’s a lot of country guitar in this one and a lot of humor in the lyrics as a couple analyzes how far they’ve come from where they started.
There is presumably more divorce angst in “My Life Is In Storage” which appears to be about a guy who’s had to stash all his stuff, like you do when you’re splitting households, and is timidly venturing into a new relationship. “Atom in My Heart” is also about starting a new love. Both songs are from the point of view of a guy who’s been through some heavy stuff – fairly romantic in a jaded-old-guy sort of way. And very appealing.
The Pixies were a surreal post punk band that pioneered the ‘whisper to scream’ sound later bands, like Nirvana, jumped all over and capitalized on. As a solo act, Black became something of cultural observer-commentator. Recently, the Pixies regrouped for a hugely successful reunion tour and this CD follows on the heels of that tour.
“Honeycomb” is Frank Black exploring a smoother, more romantic side of himself. It’s hardly the raging punk sound of the Pixies but still very, very interesting and very, very listenable.
(jitter contributed to this review. A lot, let’s say.)