prudentMUSIC www.prudentMUSIC.blogspot.com Presents: Francis Black - Bluefinger
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Review by Heather Phares
Bluefinger could be seen as a return to form, but whose return to form is it? This is the first music Charles Kitteridge Thompson IV has made as Black Francis since his days with the Pixies, after more than 15 years of releasing albums as Frank Black. The man of many names said he was inspired to go back to Black Francis while recording "Threshold Apprehension," the bonus track for the Frank Black retrospective 93-03. That song -- which also appears here -- and the rest of Bluefinger was inspired by Herman Brood, a Dutch musician, painter, and poet whose fondness for sex, drugs, and rock & roll led to lifelong health and addiction problems, and ultimately, his 2001 suicide at age 54. The switch back to the mysterious Black Francis persona might have helped channel Brood's lust for life -- after all, with the Pixies, Francis excelled at telling twisted, fragmented songs inspired by the Bible and his messed-up id like "Dead" and "Nimrod's Son" -- and Bluefinger has some of the most aggressive, decadent songs Thompson has written under any of his aliases. "Threshold Apprehension" is joyfully self-destructive, shouting about "Grand Marnier and a packet full of speed" and being "junk sick" like they're both fantastic, while the color-coded debauchery of "Tight Black Rubber" is a skuzzy cousin to Black's "Ten Percenter," and actually is fantastic. "My baby's so bad, I nearly killed her!" is an almost Pixies-worthy depiction of weird sex, and even when you're not sure exactly what is going on in the song, it sounds like dangerous fun. However, no matter how much Thompson insists that Bluefinger is a Black Francis album, it's still far closer to his work as Frank Black than to anything he did with the Pixies. He just doesn't sound the way he used to, even though his scream is still one of the all-time great rock vocals and pops up all over the album, especially effectively on the cover of Brood's own "You Can't Break a Heart and Have It." This isn't a bad thing, though; as Frank Black, he has become an excellent, if slightly more traditional, songwriter and storyteller, and that serves character sketches as diverse as the death-defying "Test Pilot Blues" and punk love story "Discotheque 36" well. Bluefinger's range also feels more Frank than Francis. "Captain Pasty"'s revved-up rocker would have fit on Dog in the Sand or Teenager of the Year, while the title track has a compassion and gentleness to it that would've been wildly out of place on a Pixies album. Attaching the Black Francis moniker to this album might ratchet up expectations too high for rabid Pixies fans, but Bluefinger is a good Charles Thompson album -- it's still really enjoyable to hear him have fun and rock out, no matter what name he chooses to use.