"He don't need the power/ just to make a sound/ He is not the man that he used to be/ oh, no, the man who was too loud," sings Frank Black on the closing track of his latest album, "Frank Black and the Catholics." "I will play softly/ I will play softly/ I will play softly now."
"Softly?" Don't think that Black has gone mellow on his fourth outing since the demise of his former band, the alt-rock heroes the Pixies. Though his sound may be toned down since that band's late-'80s/early-'90s heyday, it still comes on like a tornado full of gale-force hooks and rollicking punk-rock rhythms. "When you get right down to it, nothing has really changed since I was in the Pixies," says Black. "Or since I was 15 years old, playing music in a garage, for that matter. Not my motivations, not my songwriting technique -- nothing. I just make rock music.";The new album's "The Man Who Was Too Loud," "All My Ghosts" and "I Need Peace" feature vintage Pixies trademarks: hair-trigger transitions, grinding guitars, Black's tobacco-stained growl. Other tracks, such as "Do You Feel Bad About It?" and "I Gotta Move," showcase his keen ear for pop.
Nevertheless, the new songs have a spontaneity and directness that is new to Black's recorded work. He explains that the album was initially cut as a demo for a producer, but the band felt that the two-track recording captured its live sound so well they decided to forego formal production and release the demo as it was. In his previous work, Black made full use of the endless options of the modern recording studio and was excruciatingly detailed in his production methods. "That's the way I've always made albums in the past," he says. "It's how everyone does it these days, poring over every little detail, dubbing stuff in, you know. It was incredibly refreshing to do it this way instead, to make a record the same way they would in the '50s. It's more pure."
The band members were so impressed with this approach that they have recorded their follow-up, "Pistolero," on a two-track as well. Due out in late March, "Pistolero" continues in the same vein as "Frank Black and the Catholics," although Black acknowledges that a producer's guiding hand and some extra recording time have made "Pistolero" a "cleaner" effort.
Ironically, while the old-style recording methods have been fruitful, this story has a high-tech side. "Frank Black" is one of the first albums to be released commercially over the Internet at spinART Records via MP3 file-format technology. Ninety-nine cents and approximately seven minutes of download time buy one song. Part with $8.99 and the entire album is yours. Despite music-industry protests of possible piracy as a result of such downloads, Black has a breezy attitude regarding his use of the technology. "Oh, I don't think I'm a pioneer," he says. "It was a business decision, really. And, you know, I've gotten some amazing publicity out of it. I've been on NPR and all over the mainstream press talking about putting my album on the Net. What a break!"; ;
Black brushes off the industry's concerns. "Well, they're just worried about their profits -- that's their job," he says. "It's not like the Net is going to lead to the death of music. Please. Honestly, I sort of feel like, well, ‘Screw them,' anyway. Record companies have been screwing everybody around for years with inflated CD prices. It's about time something came along to level the playing field." Black pauses for a breath. "Yeah. Screw 'em."