It’s been a long 20 years since the Pixies released Doolittle, yet Frank Black will just not put down the microphone and hang up the guitar. His output as a solo artist has been incredibly consistent with at least 10 albums released this decade alone. I don’t profess to be living in a hole during that time, but has he really done anything of note since Teenager of The Year? You know the record I’m talking about. The one where he looks like an overly-pleased bald-headed baby hugging a trophy.
The phrase ‘credit where credit’s due’ in Frank Black’s case has long been worn out. Yes, grand sir, your previous act in some ways defined the latter half of the 80’s but as the years drag us down, your spirit and desire to create remains undimmed. Why is this so? Everyone has to earn a living, but surely you’ve earned yours several times over. The fact you exhumed the corpse of the Pixies to ensure a life of luxury for generations of little Blacks (five at last count) is admirable, but this is ridiculous.
To give Grand Duchy some merit, Petit Fours is not just another Frank Black solo album, but indeed a husband and wife project for Mr. and Mrs. Black (aka Violet Clarke). Many a great song has been written by husband and wife teams over the years – Sonny & Cher, Ike & Tina etc, but not so many from the greying alternative scene. Kurt & Courtney gave it a shot, Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500/Luna fame tried it with both wives, so as genre of its own, the indie husband and wife team hasn’t been worn out just yet, even if your husband’s overwhelming solo career has.
Grand Duchy began as a studio experiment that bore the track “Fort Wayne” which they then leaked to the public and the positive response gave them the impetus to keep going. “Fort Wayne” is a pretty decent indication of what to expect from Petit Fours. It’s a Pixies song by another name, with Clarke taking the vocal duties of Kim Deal and sounding uncannily alike. What’s that saying about ‘why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’.
There’s a distinct 80’s flavour to the album on tracks like “Lovesick” and “Seeing Stars” (the majority of the album in fact) which Black lays squarely on his wife’s shoulders, “She digs the 80’s. I spent the latter part of the 80’s doing my part to destroy the 80’s”. And while there are undeniable moments of Frank Black-ness like in the grizzled rock dirge of “Come On Over To My House”, it’s largely Clarke’s show. Imagine Berlin meets, I don’t know, a very large balding man from Massachussets.
The best thing I can say about Petit Fours is its not as delicious as its namesake, but more an acquired taste. If you’ve had several helpings of Frank Black over the years, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.