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By the time I started listening to the Pixies, they had already released their fourth and ‘final’ album*, “Trompe le monde”. That album’s second single, “Alec Eiffel”, became my gateway and my friend Tim did the rest, sharing with me the best of their back catalogue. So though I was somewhat saddened by the news of their breakup in 1993, it was short-lived, because almost immediately afterwards, I started hearing bits of new solo work by the band’s ex-frontman, Black Francis, heretofore renamed as Frank Black. Indeed, the first single off his self-titled debut, “Los Angeles”, got a lot of attention right off the bat, plenty of radio air play, and its video hit the regular rotation on MuchMusic.
That a new release from Black came so quickly after the demise of his band was hardly a surprise to anyone. In fact, some critics had facetiously called “Trompe le monde” his first solo album, pointing out the reduced creative input by bassist Kim Deal. The tensions in the band at that time was palpable to all and sundry. Indeed, even while recording that album, he had discussions with the album’s producer about a possible solo album. He didn’t have a lot of new material at the ready to record so Frank Black had originally planned to record an album of covers. By the time he entered the recording studio in 1992, though, he had plenty of material, much of it a continuation of what he had begun with “Trompe le monde”.
“Hang on to your ego” is the only holdover from Black’s original concept, though when I first heard it on a mixed tape a university friend made for me, I had no idea it was a cover. It’s a great one, too, and by all rights should also appear on my 100 best covers series**.
The original was recorded by The Beach Boys for their “Pet sounds” album in 1966. It sounds of a carnival, slightly off-kilter with a janky piano, a tambourine, and a harmonium and very inventive and cool but you can’t forget that it’s the Beach Boys, all harmonies and wholesome, blonde hair and a tan. The original lyrics were re-written before the album’s release to cover up the drug references and it was renamed “I know there’s an answer”. The original recording with the original lyrics later surfaced on the 1990 reissue of “Pet sounds” and this is the version upon which Frank Black’s version is based.
And his cover betrays no hint that it was such, sounding nothing at all like a Beach Boys track, all driving guitars and drums and synths, a screaming guitar solo and instead of the telltale harmonies, Black’s ultra cool vocals are backed up by robots. Pure awesomeness.
*I am using the proverbial air quotes here because as we all know, the Pixies re-formed a decade after their dissolution to much success and further albums became a reality.
**Spoiler alert: I somehow missed including it on that list when creating it but that’s okay it’s here now.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.