Black Francis – Nonstoperotik
Alun Thomas shakes his head in despair at Black Francis’ latest

Black Francis has released some amazing albums over the years. Sadly, this is not one of them. Nonstoperotik is a turgid album, mediocre at best, which leaves the listener wondering what the hell has happened to Francis’ songwriting in recent years. He’s always been prolific, releasing an average of an album a year since he went solo, most of these with his backing band the Catholics. Mainly blah country rock, the Frank Black and the Catholics albums are partially redeemed by some great songwriting and typically weird lyrics, the two-track recording method which Francis insisted on giving the albums a warm bar-band feel. The Catholics won’t set your world alight but if it’s twisted alt-country with attitude you’re after they won’t disappoint. Much. The trouble seemed to set in when Charles Thompson IV decided to stop being Frank Black and revert back to his Pixies-era moniker. This resulted in the trying-too-hard Bluefinger, a concept album about Herman Brood with some awful clunky lyrics, swiftly followed by the heartstoppingly shit Svn Fngrs, an excruciating chore of an album with no redeeming features whatsoever. Disappointingly, Nonstoperotik does nothing to buck this trend.

As is usual for Frank Black records the album is rammed to the gills with filler, forcing listeners to hunt through the dross for anything resembling a memorable tune. Five songs in, finally, ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ slithers into sight, its snaking guitar line heralding the beginning of the only good song on the album. Francis puts in a great vocal performance on the track, his passionate screaming in the chorus being a particular highlight. Lyrically the song is more straightforward than his usual fare and none the poorer for it.

The underwhelming ‘Corrina’ follows, a song that would be less offensive to the listener if only it had a memorable riff, vocals that were in tune, lyrics that weren’t dreadful and didn’t repeat its one musical idea endlessly throughout its two minute running time. An absolute chore to listen to, the less said about it the better.

Unfortunately, this attitude applies equally to the rest of the album. One disappointing song follows another until the one-two gut punch that is ‘Nonstoperotik’ and ‘Cinema Star’. Offensively bland AOR dirges with lyrics so awful and trite that Johnny Borrell would be ashamed to use them, they close the album with a whimper, leaving the listener feeling intensely grateful that the ordeal is over. With Nontoperotik Francis’ songwriting has regressed to sub-bar band level. One suspects that the only reason he still has a recording contract is because of his former glories; if a band starting out tried to release this kind of rubbish they’d be laughed out of the studio. Black Francis has finally stopped teetering on the edge of mediocrity and hurled himself into the abyss. From his new vantage point at the bottom of the barrel, the glory days of the Pixies must seem very far away.

Alun Thomas