CD Review of Honeycomb by Frank Black

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Released: 2005
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One wonders if the Doolittle-era version of Charles Thompson, a.k.a. Black Francis, had any idea what mad plans his ultimate alter ego Frank Black had in store for him 16 years later. Francis probably wouldn’t have been too surprised by the Pixies reunion part of it -- he had to have known that the band wouldn’t last forever, though probably would have been shocked to learn that they would be finished in three years -- but one has to think that an album like Honeycomb being issued under the Frank Black Francis collective would have sent him reeling. After all, this was Black fucking Francis, the guy who wrote two minute bursts of sonic shrapnel about Roswell, the architect of the Eiffel Tower, and, you know, when you grope for luna.

Surely, not at any point in his career, would Black Francis have made a Johnny Cash album. And yet, that is precisely what has happened. Honeycomb is as far removed from the essence of the Pixies as one can get; it’s even keel, deliberate, soulful, and folky, things the Pixies never were. Even Black’s voice, usually a strained tenor, is a smoky baritone. Ooooooooh, growin’ up, as Bruce Springsteen once said. Whether this venture into Americana is a one-shot deal or a long-term career path remains to be seen, but it’s entertaining all the same.

Black still likes to spin a yarn here and there, and wastes no time doing so here. Leadoff track “Selkie Bride” is based on a Scottish folk tale (again, that word folk) of a fisherman who takes a seal/human hybrid for his wife. “Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day” may sound like Muswell Hillbillies-era Kinks, but it is in fact by late country rocker Doug Sahm. “My Life Is In Storage” is a two songs put together, the latter half of which sounds like something Eric Clapton should look into covering. Best of all is “Strange Goodbye,” a two-minute duet with wife Jean Black that plays like some bizarro tribute to Johnny and June.

The Pixies are taking a bit of a street cred beating for milking the reunion cash cow, which seems a little preposterous from here. The only people who bought their records the first time around were other musicians and record store clerks, so who can blame Boston’s finest for finally taking a piece of the pie? Besides, if it enables Frank Black to make records as carefree as Honeycomb, then it will all have been for a good cause.

~David Medsker