Frank Black - Fast Man Raider Man

It’s virtually impossible to talk about Frank Black’s music without at least a cursory mention of the pantheon-level band that he fronted as Black Francis. However, I’m going to try to not mention the Pixies after this sentence, because the fact of the matter is that the shredding rock of the ---ies and the songs of Frank Black have become increasingly distinct from each other. What we have now is a fairly quiet and gentle man, and though he’s still occasionally prone to rock-and-roll fury, he now spews vitriol melodically over lilting slide-guitar lines and melancholy horns. No friends, the Frank Black of Fast Man Raider Man is not your hip older brother’s Frank Black.

Which is not to say that this album isn’t good, because it is good. The trouble is, that’s all it is: good. At its best, the music is fairly reminiscent of late 70’s Springsteen. At it’s worse…well, it doesn’t really get too much worse. In fact, it might be simultaneously the most consistent and least impressive double-album ever released by a major artist. And though the anonymous session musicians of last year’s Honeycomb have now given way to such legends as Levon Helm and Al Kooper (who, by the way, holds the world record for most stories told about the “Like a Rolling Stone” sessions in documentaries), nothing about the music is particularly distinguished, even with the heady collection of innovators the album gathers together.

I won’t go through the album song by song and tell you about all the tracks for three main reasons: 1) That’s a shitty way to review anything 2) There’re a lot of songs on this album and I don’t plan to go over 1,000 words and 3) I’d be repeating the same thing over and over again. It would sound like this: ___ is a lovely pop/country/soul song and pretty easy to forget though you’ll enjoy it while it is playing. A few songs, like “Fitzgerald” and “Elijah,” are almost as good as anything he’s done. The key word here, though, is almost. The thing is, it’s an album of “almosts”. Almost riveting, almost great, almost as good as the ---ies.

With no extreme highs or fascinating lows, is it even worth listening to? Well, that all depends: if you dig the mellow Memphis country-rock of Honeycomb then you’ll like this, because Fast Man Raider Man doesn’t so much improve on that as it does expand it. I personally could probably listen to it every day, though I’d have trouble telling you what I was listening to and wouldn’t be able to repeat any of the lyrics or hum any of the melodies. Every song blends innocuously into the next. And that makes for a pleasurable and vaguely disappointing listening.

I’m sorry, Mr. Black. You know I love ya. One thing I never thought I’d do was give you a lukewarm review. But I like the album…I really do. At least, I think I do. And have I ever told you how much I love Doolittle and Teenager of the Year?

--Matthew J. Broad

Release Date: June 20, 2006

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