Review Summary: Though not as wonderful as Black's earlier work. The Cult of Ray still manages to hook in those who like their rock quirky.
What is it about the prospect of going solo that seems to suck the air out of a career like a vacuum? Ever since the 1993 breakup of seminal alt-rockers, the Pixies, Frank Black has been subject to the scrutiny of many fans, hoping for the next lost Pixies album. Well, here’s news for you. Frank Black is having too much fun being free to create another Doolittle.
Black’s third solo album, “The Cult of Ray”, holds a low rating amongst most critics especially after following such strong albums like his self-titled debut or the sprawling “Teenager of the Year”. It seems that most believed Black to have run out of tricks by the time he recorded this set of songs. The truth, however, is more complex.
It’s not that Black was at a lack of ideas, as some thought. This album represents a shift in direction into more conventional territory, territory that would easily seem out of place on a Pixies album or Black’s first two recordings. Instead of the genre-bending antics that were standard in Black’s earlier career, he opts for a more straight-ahead guitar sound throughout the majority of the underrated album.
Sure, some of the songs may sound slightly stilted and static (like the opener, “The Marsist”), but when the energy is present, you’d be hard pressed to not sing along or at least hum a bit. Hard-driving guitar rock with dynamic solos dominates this album. Black’s voice may seem lacking in a few of the album’s songs. “Punk Rock City” is a prime example yet it still retains his trademark quirkiness.
Some of the better songs on the album are the ones that capture the energy that Black intended. “The Cult of Ray” was recorded live in the studio minus a few overdubs and the better songs reflect this method while the worse ones are accentuated because of this. “I Don’t Want Hurt You” is a fine song that you can hum to but this bare recording of it makes it seem watered-down. With better instrumentation though, this song could easily flourish.
The lyrics are standard fare for Frank Black as in most songs you’re not really sure what he’s singing about but you have some idea that it’s probably pretty out there. He sings about seeing aliens and fearing intimidating G-men in “Men in Black”, getting kicked in a special place, and the death of a Pakistani student in “The Last Stand of Shazeb Andleeb.
The Cult of Ray could easily be seen as a transition record between the eclectic rockers of his previous output to the more laidback records that Black has released recently. This album is not for everyone but then again this could easily be said about most of Black’s solo work. And even with all the so-so’s this album is given, it still has the catchiness that will sate most fans of Frank Black.
Successes- Men in Black, You Ain’t Me, Jesus Was Right
Misses- The Marsist, Punk Rock City