First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7
Written by John Metzger
Thu July 19, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Over the course of his career, Frank Black has chosen art over commerce. Yet, the events of recent years seem to indicate that his perspective has changed. For a long time, he unwaveringly met inquiries regarding the reunion of his former group the Pixies with the pat answer, "When pigs fly." Yet, more than a decade later, the iconic alt-rock outfit once again took to the road. Now, however, comes a move that, in the past, one never would have expected Black to make: He’s put together a career retrospective that mimics the frustrating repackaging scheme that frequently is employed by the Top 40 artists that Black typically has railed against. Not only does 93–03 contain one new track — the manic Threshold Apprehension, which is meant to preview his forthcoming endeavor Bluefinger — but it also boasts a nine-song bonus disc of previously unreleased live material. All of the extras, of course, have been added primarily to tempt his diehard followers into purchasing the collection. Even worse, the concert cuts vary among the North American, European, and Japanese editions of the effort. What’s a Pixies fan to do?
The core of 93-03 is not geared in any way toward Black’s established base of fans. Nevertheless, the debate likely will rage forever over which songs ought to have been featured instead. As a primer on his solo career, however, the set truly is hard to beat. Presented chronologically, its components appear to have been selected in a manner that balances Black’s must-have material with tracks that were included primarily to move the listener from point A to point B. The most common criticism that has been leveled at Black since he disbanded the Pixies is that he can’t differentiate his good songs from his bad ones, but 93–03 smooths out his eccentricities to present the sort of cohesive vision that likely will surprise his more fair-weather followers.
Black has spent the bulk of his solo career leaving his work with the Pixies behind; and as 93–03 progresses, it’s easy to see how he gradually gravitated toward a more roots-oriented, classic rock sound. The dynamic shifts that were the bread and butter of his former band are present, primarily in the material that was culled from his self-titled, solo debut, but rather than delivering his vocals with a full-throated roar, he adopted a style that was similar to Lou Reed’s scrappy, street-smart snarl. On the other hand, his work with The Catholics exuded the ragged fervor of a bar band. He crossed The Clash with Neil Young on Bad Harmony and dispensed Western Star with a Stones-y swagger. In between, there are a few other intriguing twists and turns, such as Calistan, which recasts Mark Knopfler as a punk rocker, and the Luna-esque Speedy Marie. The flow of 93–03 is completely natural, and there isn’t a weak spot on the primary portion of the endeavor.
However, culled from Black’s 2006 tour of Europe, the live cuts featured on 93–03 are more problematic, at least on the North American installment of the set. Not only do the performances lack pizzazz and punch, but Black’s approach also is so similar from one tune to the next that the songs fuse together until they become an indistinct blur of sludgy, Neil Young-ian rock. Consequently, the bonus disc isn’t terribly satisfying, especially when its contents are compared with how well the studio selections fare.
93–03 is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box