Charles Thompson has been a busy man, ever since he picked up a guitar and dreamed up the fantastically twisted tales that lace the Pixies catalog like so much lyrical cyanide. Not only did Thompson, whom fans know as Pixies frontman Black Francis, churn out five commanding albums with his high-impact modern rock quartet — including two efforts, 1988’s “Surfer Rosa” and 1989’s “Doolittle,” that are regarded by many as two of the finest rock albums ever — but he’s averaged around an album a year during his solo career as Frank Black, including his latest from SpinArt called “Frank Black Francis.”
That Thompson’s newest solo album riffs on his dual identities may not come as a surprise to the Pixies faithful, but you can be sure that the reinvented versions of old Pixies standards like “Caribou” and “Subbacultcha” at the hands of producers Two Pale Boys (also known as Andy Diagram and Keith Moline) will. But Thompson is a rock ‘n’ roll animal who can quickly become bored with whatever he’s doing and is apt to follow his artistic muse wherever it takes him. How else to explain why the man U2’s Bono called one of America’s most gifted songwriters of all time (in “Gouge,” a U.K. documentary about the band) would, without any real warning, break up what Bono (and many others) also called one of America’s most significant bands of all time? How else to explain how, after years of refusing to answer questions about the Pixies and trying to downplay their significance, he summarily reformed the band 12 years after they’d called it quits and set about touring the world like nothing ever happened?
Don’t look to Thompson for answers. He seems to be professionally comfortable when he’s doing one thing only: making music, in the studio or on the stage. And even that seems a recent development; dedicated Pixies fans who remember that he looked none too happy playing concerts with the band sometime after the “Doolittle” tour will notice how Thompson seems to be truly enjoying himself this time around. Back in 1992, if bassist Kim Deal messed up “Debaser” and caused the band to stop the show in midsong, as she did recently at a packed gig in Berkeley, Calif., Pixies die-hards would have cringed and waited for Thompson to chuck an instrument at her. He’s done it before. But in the Pixies’ new afterlife, Thompson merely stops and good-naturedly heckles her before starting up the whole song again. With the new kinder, gentler Pixies, it’s all good.
But one thing that hasn’t changed about Thompson is his interview style. He can be variously tangential, disengaged, ecstatic and bored. Thompson did eventually answer a few questions about what the band’s future might hold, but not before firmly placing Spin magazine, tabloid gossip, pugnacious journos, the “soulless” mainstream scene, VH1’s utter banality and much more in his cross hairs and pulling the trigger. In other words, if you’ve come for answers to big questions about the band, you’ve come to the wrong place.