There’s something about hearing little Charles Michael Kittridge Thomson IV’s voice and acoustic guitar blasting into a tape recorder. Recorded in 1987 in an apartment in Boston, it’s as close as a fan will ever get to sitting in a sunshine lit bedroom and having an intimate time with the man who became known as indie genius, Black Francis.
Unsurprisingly, this two disc collection is an absolute wet dream for die-hard Pixies fans, but in the liner notes, the frontman endearingly airs his fear that by providing one CD of early demos and another CD where he tampers with classic Pixies material, he may actually put off new fans.
Fortunately, his reservations are unfounded. The first disc’s collection of solo acoustic demos is reassuringly familiar. Recorded at Pixies producer Gary Smith's apartment, before the full band hit the studio for their legendary sessions at Fort Apache, it’s all pre-Doolittle material apart from ‘Subbacultcha’. Hollered into Smith’s walkman, it’s possible to tell just how intricate and percussive Francis’s rhythm guitar parts were, with ‘I’m Amazed’ and ‘Oh My Golly’ demonstrating the Spanish folk influence on the big man’s songwriting. Francis even sings Kim Deal’s part on ‘I’m Amazed’ and bizarrely begins ‘Oh My Golly’ by mimicking Dave Lovering’s Caribbean-beat drum intro. Aside from these heart-warming moments, the mournful, perceptive quality of Black Francis' vocals is instantly tangible, despite the cover photos depicting him as a fresh-faced cherub straight out of college.
The second disc is a strange beast. Recorded only this year, it features a host of Pixies classics re-imagined with the aid of Two Pale Boys (Andy Diagram on trumpet and electronics, and Keith Moline on guitar, violin and electronics). If you imagine Calexico during their Mariachi phase, then this is an older and wiser Black Francis willing to tear down the foundations of songs such as ‘Caribou’ to return them as haunting, windswept soundtracks.
Whereas 'Cactus' was once filthy, desperate and desert hungry, it takes on a new identity with echoing vocal lines and seedy trumpets, suggesting rows of neon-lit strip clubs lined with beckoning call girls. Without the maniacal flow of Francis’ rhythm guitar, ‘Nimrod’s Son' doesn’t carry the same sense of mayhem, proving that a different treatment doesn’t always reap rewards. However, by staying true to the bassy thread of ‘Velouria’ and the skipping riff of _'Holiday Song’, the extra instrumentation creates an added sense of tequila inspired juke-joint thrills. It’s an intriguing and refreshing listen, especially as each one of these songs is buried so deep in people’s hearts, they’ve now become part of the musical bloodstream.
8Lianne Steinberg's Score