Frank Black just can’t seem to stay out of a studio for more than ten minutes at a stretch. The genius workaholic, who has given fans a lifetime of tunes between his work with Pixies and his multitude of “solo” projects, has whipped up a new venture alongside his bass-playing/angel-voiced wife, Violet Clark.
Begun as a domestic experiment (“Let’s go play in the studio, honey.” “Only if you let me sing this time, Franky babe.”), the pair accidentally created an album that straddles the easy innocence of the new wave ’80s, and the darker, alternative days that Black once reigned over while avoiding the clichés of sounding too intentionally retro.
Grand Duchy doesn’t sound like anything Black has done before, though it often bares his trademark guitar fuzz and unique bear cub growl. He takes more chances with his vocals than in the past — making it almost unrecognizable at times, as on the album’s trump card track, “Black Suit.” His growl digs low and rumbles, taking on Glenn Danzig tones at times, while a moody synthesizer plays backdrop to both his and Clark’s sweeter backing vocals. The only song on this debut release that owes even more of a debt to the ’80s is the robotic-effected “Ermesinde.”
Like Kim Deal in Pixies, Violet Clark plays the role of femme to Black’s unbreakable masculine presence. Unlike his shaky relationship with Deal, Black appears comfortable and confident enough to allow Clark to take center stage. When she does, as on “Lovesick,” the result is pretty little ditties that recall Veruca Salt. Even on the album’s cover photo, Black has turned his back to let the camera rest on his wife’s cherubic face.
Age and marriage seem to have allowed Frank Black to let go of the steering wheel just long enough to let happy accidents like Grand Duchy happen.
Grand Duchy: www.grandduchymusic.com