Album Reviews: Black Francis – Bluefinger / Live at The Hotel Utah Saloon

Black Francis, A.K.A Frank Black, erstwhile singer and main songwriter of the Pixies, and prolific solo artist, released Bluefinger in 2007, and it is receiving a re-issue on beautiful vinyl, and here it is. You can’t talk about this album without mentioning Herman Brood, troubled Dutch pop star, who strode above the Netherlands pop scene of the late 70’s and 80’s like a behemoth. Famous not only for his music and later art, but for his drug use and generally hedonistic lifestyle. He was born in the city of Zwolle, where the citizens are known as Blauwvingers, or Bluefingers. After various stints in jail for dealing he formed the band Wild Romance and gained fame and notoriety mainly for his outspoken admissions of drug taking and his party lifestyle, being romantically linked to punk songstress Nina Hagen and appearing with her in the 1979 film Cha Cha. The eighties saw him diminish gradually from the charts after failing to break into the American market, and embarking on street art style painting, becoming a leading figure in that field also, leading to biographical film Rock ‘n’ Roll Junkie in 1994. In 2001 he committed suicide by jumping from the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton hotel (the site of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s famous bed-in). It would seem there is a fascinating story to tell here. Bluefinger was released in 2007 and 3 years later was turned into a rock opera in collaboration with the Catastrophic Theatre Company.

And so to the music. The wired rhythm guitars and trebly snare and vocals that are a kind of Frank Black trademark are very much in evidence and, along with the wound up clockwork bursts of thrash rock, lend themselves very well to the vinyl format. Songs like “Captain Pasty” and “Tight Black Rubber”, the more up-tempo cuts of Frank Black’s oeuvre, familiar to those who are familiar, his spoken/screamed delivery perfect for telling snippets of a notorious life. In fact most of these songs stand up against the very best of his work, either solo or with the Pixies.

‘He was no saint but he was Dutch…prettier than Brando but punk as punk’ “Angels Come To Comfort You” is basically the story of Herman Brood told in song from Frank’s point of view upon seeing the statue of him (there is a Youtube video of him performing next to the statue outside the Herman Brood museum in Zwolle).

Apart from the occasional time signature drop, this album is less experimental than previous work like his brilliant first solo album, being a more straightforward rock affair, in keeping with the subject matter, with a flavour of the sparse post punk, pre new wave sound that was a Brood trademark. Songs like “You Can’t Break And Have It” and “Tight Black Rubber” and the casual backing vocals on “Discotheque 36″conjuring the PVC sleaze of the times as well as nodding to pre grunge songs like the Pixies “Subbacultcha”. The frenetic “You Can’t Break A Heart And Have It” is the only cover on this album and it doesn’t stray too far from the Brood original except that it’s more wired but less sleazy. Elsewhere the pure driven brilliance of “Your Mouth Into Mine”, the shamalama ding dong of “She Took All The Money” and the slow blues burner of the title song, with its brilliant skewed guitar solo and the Kim Deal-esque backing vocals by Violet Clark providing such a great counterpoint to Frank’s sleazy denouements of a life lived make for a great and very cohesive album from the man.

And so to Frank’s 2008 USB only live album, also pressed for the first time on double vinyl, which sees Frank and his electric guitar give an intimate performance at the Utah Hotel. Just the man, the mike and the music. He’s not particularly verbose our Frank, so we get treated to a selection of songs from his solo back catalogue interspersed with a few choice cuts from the Pixies like “Velouria” and “Wave Of Mutilation”. It also includes 3 versions of songs from his the recent album “Bluefinger”, namely the title cut, “Tight Black Rubber” and “Angels Come To Comfort You”. Frank Black fans will welcome the vinyl packaging of this album, but really it’s for the purists. Those who are newer to his work would be better pointed towards “Bluefinger” before venturing this far perhaps. However for those who appreciate the honest approach of man and guitar they could do a lot worse.

Both albums are available from 30th July on vinyl via Demon Records. Order Bluefinger here and Live at The Utah Hotel Saloon here

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Review by Andrew Wood

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