Frank Black – Teenager of the Year

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

His second and arguably best solo album (the first one is decent), this did a lot to rehabilitate Charles Thompson IV/Black Francis/Frank Black, who unceremoniously broke up the Pixies via a fax to half the band, and who was probably always, in the eyes of the public, going to come out on the losing end of a perceived if not actual feud with Kim Deal. The Pixies seemed like a band with a very dysfunctional dynamic, and Thomspon has often come across as a prickly individual, not to mention that a catalog of songs about aliens, incest, and religion do not really invite warmth. But on this album at least, he could do no wrong. It turns out that he actually won a “Teenager of the Year” award as a youth.

What I Think of This Album

As double albums go, this is a refreshingly tight affair. There are no lengthy experiments or bizarre tangents; rather, it just seems that Black had a large number of songs available and he decided to release all of them, at once. If you pared this down to a 12 track album, it would be on par with the best of the Pixies’ work, but even at 22 songs, it is still very good.

Lacking much of the dark perversity found in his early Pixies material, this album seems looser and liberated, with a slightly more conventional sound, as Black gleefully explores whatever topic pops into his larger-than-average-sized cranium; as such, you get to hear about video games, seafaring empires, the history of the Los Angeles water supply, CB radio, and the Three Stooges. Most songs speed by, as half come in under the three minute mark, several are shorter than two minutes, and only two exceed four minutes. It’s a double album that doesn’t feel like one, sort of like Guided By Voices but more substantial.

The highlights are the amped-up “Thalassocracy” with a fun rhyme scheme, a vintage Black Francis scream, and one of the most arcane put-downs ever committed to vinyl (“I’m thalassocracy / And you’re just Romanov”); keyboard-heavy countryish love song “Speedy Marie;” anguished pop pleaser “Headache” (I recall the video for this had a shot of Black taking a chainsaw to a giant aspirin – awesome); mocking 70’s themed manifesto “Freedom Rock” (with an excellent lead guitar figure and rambunctious drums); proclamatory “White Noise Maker;” the heartland defiance of “Pure Denizen of the Citizen’s Band” (“I don’t need no / Chateaubriand”); the whiny surf/space rock of  “(I Want to Live On An) Abstract Plain;” wavering “I Could Stay Here Forever;” and piano pounding “Calistan.” Basically, the first half of the album is full of keepers, and the second half has some really good songs, too.

Former Pixie Joey Santiago plays guitar on several tracks.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Headache” knows how to pound.

Release Date

May, 1994

The Cover Art

Well, Black is not the most photogenic artist, and I guess he should get credit for trying to make a joke of it, but it’s not a successful joke, and the title stinks of 90’s marketing. Oddly enough, this is a v23 creation, but without any of the hallmarks of that shop’s aesthetic.

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