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Black Francis - Bluefinger
Review by Tony BonyataI have to admit that other then being absolutely floored the first time I heard Pixies' Surfer Rosa and Doolittle back in '89 (still two of my favorite rock albums of the last two decades), the majority of work that Pixies' frontman Frank Black has released since - either as a Pixie of solo artist - usually leaves me either perplexed or cold for a listen or two before the whole thing starts to take shape into something much more interesting, eclectic and alluring. Not so surprisingly, his latest full-length is no exception, as it holds a lot of surprises that don't always spring right out of the box, but once they do they're a joy.
On his fourteenth solo effort, Bluefinger, Black is once again donning his Black Francis name, which he used throughout his career as a Pixie before changing it to Frank Black for his remarkable 1993 self-titled solo effort. But while the eleven tracks never fully mirror Francis' former band - save for perhaps the spastic jerk of "Threshold Apprehension" which would have fit nicely within the confines of Pixies' last two efforts, Bossanova or Trompe Le Monde - they do rock harder than the majority of his more recent work (especially considering that his last two efforts, Honeycomb and Fastman Raiderman, leaned more towards classic Nashville country than the left-of-center alt-rock he helped create in the late '80s).
Bluefinger is an ode to Dutch musician, artist and self-destructive eccentric Herman Brood, which either directly or indirectly makes references to him throughout. Francis covers one of Brood's own tunes, "You Can't Break a Heart and Have It," which despite its punky attitude actually isn't one of the record's stronger tracks (no surprise since Francis is a master at crafting oddly unique modern rock compositions). The numbers that do initially prick-the-ears are the grungy "Tight Black Rubber," the subversive swing of "Test Pilot Blues" and the revved-up mayhem of opening track "Captain Pasty."
"Slave to rock & roll and a slave to junk, angels come to comfort you," Francis sings on the most biographical number to Brood on "Angels Come To Comfort You," but it's how the song transforms two-thirds of the way in from snappy pop to a haunting jam, complete with his wife Violet Clarke's heavenly harmonizing which adds a warm ghostly effect that's both disorienting and pleasing, that really makes this number soar.
Despite the return to his former moniker, however, Bluefinger never fully reaches the heights of his former band, nor does it match the work of first two solo efforts, but, as always, Frank Black, or Black Francis as the case may now be, has always managed to deliver the goods. And this ode to one of his musical and artistic heroes is no exception.
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