Frank Black may have returned to his old, Pixies-era moniker for his latest release, Bluefinger, but otherwise he’s stayed on the same alt-country path he’s been traveling these past several years.Something of a concept album, every track on Bluefinger references Dutch musician/painter Herman Brood. The flavoring, however, is not oppressive, and the spirit of the late “Dutch personification of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll” gives Bluefinger a rollicking vibe, even in its tragedy.
Best known for his work as frontman for Boston’s legendary late eighties/early nineties alternative group, The Pixies, Black Francis (real name: Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV) reversed and re-jiggered his name when The Pixies folded and he began his solo career in 1993. He later added a backing band to become Frank Black and The Catholics, but in recent years has been sort of going back in time, first returning to just ‘Frank Black’, and now all the way back to ‘Black Francis’. Then there was the big Pixies reunion tour, starting in 2004. Rumors kept surfacing about a new Pixies record, but that’s all they’ve amounted to, rumors. However, Black has stayed busy, with last year’s double-disc Fast Man/Raider Man and live album, Christmass, plus the ‘best of’ compilation Frank Black: 93-03 earlier this year, and now Bluefinger.
A more upbeat record than Fast Man, Black is world-wise on Bluefinger, but not world-weary. “Lolita” delivers a wry, country twang with great swing. The down-home jangle of “Angels Come To Comfort You” has a funny wisdom, reminiscent of “Horrible Day” from 2003’s Show Us Your Tears. And things get more driving and anthemistic with “Your Mouth Into Mine”, “Threshold Apprehension”, and especially the Brood cover, “You Can’t Break a Heart and Have It”, which is probably the catchiest song on the record. Black does not completely skip over the sadder fare, and hits the mark right on the head with the heartbreaking “Discotheque 36” and the country-blues title track that closes out Bluefinger.
Some of the songs aren’t quite as well put together, like the slightly repetitive “Test Pilot Blues”, slightly off “Captain Pasty”, and slightly grinding “Tight Black Rubber”. But those are exceptions, not the rule, on Bluefinger. No, it isn’t a new Pixies album, or even really a ‘Black Francis’ record. But what it is is a great new Frank Black release, and that’s well more than enough.