oh dear mark :D -
Christmass - Cooking Vinyl 2006
Rating = 7
UPDATE: The following review has the unpleasant distinction of being the most controversial critique on my entire site. I have received more angry emails about my (admittedly opinionated) review of Frank Black's Christmass than about any other review on my site. And I think this says something interesting -- not only about how different people have varying emotional reactions to the same musical content, but also about how vehemently certain fans (short for 'fanatics,' remember) react to a perceived attack on their favorite artist. So I'd like to clear a few things up here, if I might.
First of all, when I referred to the mostly-live, all-acoustic Christmass CD/DVD double-disc as 'pretty good,' I in no way meant it as a slight against the songwriting talent of Frank Black/Black Francis/Charles Thompson. Maybe I should have gone into more specific detail about how much I appreciate the diversity of his song choice -- who would have expected him to open his net as wide as 5 Pixies songs, 4 Honeycomb, 3 Show Me Your Tears, 2 Frank Black, and 1 each from Teenager of the Year, Frank Black and the Catholics, Dog in the Sand, Black Letter Days, Devil's Workshop, and Fast Man Raider Man -- not to mention 1 b-side, 1 unreleased Honeycomb outtake and a full SEVEN brand new songs?! I mean, sure he fucked us on Pistolero and The Cult of Ray, but I'm not going to dwell on that sore spot at the moment. There's plenty of time for that later on, after cooler heads have prevailed.
Secondly, I really don't get this whole bit about me being "sacreligious" and "purposely offensive" in my review. As anybody who has ever visited my site before knows, I don't get my opinions from Rolling Stone. I don't let MTV tell me what albums I'm supposed to like. If I put forth an unpopular argument about a well-liked record, it is not a calculated attempt to OFFEND THE WORLD; it's simply an opposing viewpoint. We all have our own musical interests, and mine just happen to gravitate more towards Frank Black's hookier, idiosyncratic 80's-90's output than his recent, more traditional songwriting approach. Having said that, it's promising to note that the new tracks debuted here do harken back to his quirkier Pixies writing style. In particular, "(Do What You Want) Gyaneshwar" is an excellently moody Spanish 'repeat-after-3-beats-instead-of-4' throwback, "Don't Get Me Wrong" is an unexpectedly nostalgic '50sy turn, and the wonderful a capella "Radio Lizards" features a complete CHOIR of overdubbed lead and backing vocals in one of the greatest ideas and most aurally compelling recordings Frank's come up with in the past decade! Best of all, all of these new songs are credited to 'Black Francis.' Could it be comeback time?
Thirdly, one phrase that keeps popping up again and again in the angry responses to my original Christmass review is "Do you honestly think this is funny?" And the answer is that yes, I do! I can't understand why Frank Black fans, obviously aware of the humor inherent in his Pixies and early solo work, can fail to see the hilarity of some of the material on this disc. His stage patter in particular is witty as all hell! Are we supposed to be stone-faced serious when he screws up a chord change in "Los Angeles" and ends the song dead with a self-deprecating, "Oh, see? I've been playing the song since 1992 and I messed it up last night, first song.... And I thought I'd get my revenge tonight...." Even better is when the crowd applauds this sharp banter and he adds, "Don't applaud! This is an occasion for hissing!" Or how about when he plays the first few chords of "Where Is My Mind?," the crowd goes wild, and he abruptly switches to some unrelated chords, says "What? I'm just workin' on some new stuff I'm trying out tonight," and NEVER MENTIONS THE SONG AGAIN. And are you trying to tell me that we're supposed to sit and soberly nod as he spends five minutes trying to convince the crowd "I can't hear you!" when they all keep yelling out song titles at him? He's a very witty man - much quicker than I've ever given him credit for. So lighten up, you gloomy gusses. The world isn't all death and destruction.
Finally, I must take exception to the number of reader commenters who have called my original review 'prejudiced' and 'mean-spirited.' I go into each new release with no expectations; if I were prejudiced against Frank Black, why would I have given high grades to the first 80% of his output!? It's only in the past five years or so that his music has taken a turn for the ordinary, and that's no guarantee that he is going to continue in that direction ANYWAY. I always hope for a great album from him, and won't be surprised when another one pops up - especially considering he puts one out about every four days. As for 'mean-spirited,' I'm sure he's heard worse. Sometimes I do go a bit over-the-top when I feel 'let down' by a former favorite artist, but at least I'm being HONEST about my emotions (as I felt them at the time of writing) and not just writing like a stick in the mud with no soul.
Hopefully this addendum has helped to clear up a few issues and calm some of the residual anger, because I really did not intend to piss anybody off by simply putting forth my own personal opinion of this perfectly enjoyable Frank Black release. Here's the original review that attracted so much hatemail:
This album's pretty good, but not as good as the time Jesus Christ and I gang-raped a nigger.