Review Summary: Frank Black recaptures some of the Pixies' magic by creating a concept album about Dutch painter Herman Brood.
Frank Black (or Black Francis in this case) recaptures the long sought after aggression and quirkiness that defined the Pixies on "Bluefinger." This is a harder sell since the contrast of Kim Deal's vocals always allowed the screamed surrealist rants by Frank Black to be a bit easier on the ears. But the album doesn't sound like the predominantly Black helmed "Trompe Le Monde." It's one of the most aggressive and frenzied things he's ever recorded. The album isn't a nostalgia trip it's something much louder and weirder.
"Bluefinger" is a loose concept album about Dutch painter Herman Brood, which might explain it's spiraling out of control nature. The Dutch painter and musician committed suicide after living a life excess and substance abuse. No where is this feeling better conveyed than on "Threshold Apprehension." With lines such as "Grand Mayne and a pocket full of speed/we did it all day till we started to bleed" the song is a full tilt chaotic rant devoted to excess. The simple, loud guitar helps propel the primal id driven song along as Black screams things like "WHAT?!?" and "THRESHOLD, THRESHOLD, THRESHOLD APPREHENSION" just like he would have in the early 90s. "Tight Black Rubber" continues the theme of excess, but is more controlled while delivering lines like my "baby's so bad I near killed her." The song sounds more controlled than "Apprehension" which feels like it's about to come apart at the seams at any minute, making it feel slightly more wooden and calculated in being quirky and creepy. "You Can't Break a Heart and Have it" is a song written by Brood which makes it's inclusion necessary to the concept. It tries to get by on volume and the repeated sentiment of the title than on anything substantial. The vocals of Violet Clark, which are apparent on a couple of albums songs, doesn't exactly replace Deal's, but adds an interesting dimension.
"Test Pilot Blues" is a dark, slower number that conveys the feeling of deep loneliness and teetering on the edge of self destruction. The song does this with a lot more ease than the louder songs, creating a vehicle that sounds more natural for Black. The best moment is "Your Mouth Into Mine," which is one of the most lovestruck and creepy things Black has ever recorded. It's a simple song that captures the magic of a first kiss in a way that doesn't end up being embarrassing considering it was put out by someone pushing 40 at the time. You could almost sync the song up with Molly Ringwald's famous birthday cake kiss scene in 16 Candles. How no one has used this yet in a movie is beyond my comprehension. "She Took All the Money" is a better collaboration with Clark about the sort of heartbreak the title suggests with an upbeat musical backdrop and mock 50s vocals of "shmalamdingding oh me oh my she took all the money and left me here to die." The album closes with "Bluefinger" that attempts to tie the Herman Brood concept up nicely. With lines like "and all my choices were pure" the song is reflective and unapologetic.
"Bluefinger" uses the disguise of a concept album to make it more natural for Black to rediscover his roots. It ultimately works if you accept as a concept record, you just need to suspend disbelief a bit, which is difficult when it's being delivered by someone who fronted one of the most influential bands of the 80s/90s. While Black recaptures the aggression of the Pixies, "Bluefinger" lacks the pop sensibilities that Deal brought to the table. It's refreshing to hear Frank Black shredding and screaming like he was when he was in his 20's instead of making increasingly mellow music ("Honeycomb" under Frank Black). Just don't come looking for a Pixies reunion. Come to terms with that and it's easy to to see why this might be one of the best solo albums Frank Black has released since "Teenager of the Year."