“Thirteen big, salty tears. Like 13 little black dogs just born, still in their sacs, about to wake up, ready to howl at the world. There isn’t a happy song in this bunch. I mean, maybe “Massif Centrale” has a ray of hope, but even then, I don’t know, central France can be really cold and lonely. Maybe “Nadine” is a sexual celebration, but man, I get so sad when I think about her way back when . . .”
—Frank Black, from his press notes for Show Me Your Tears
As you can probably tell from the above quote, Frank Black‘s fairly ambivalent about the feelings expressed on Show Me Your Tears. He implies that this record is the result of therapy, but you won’t find any “woe is me” tantrums, inner child seeking, or finding of Black’s bliss. Show Me Your Tears simply consists of thirteen well-crafted songs that never reveal the full scarring of Black’s psyche, and which often use musical sleight of hand to keep you from noticing that this is nevertheless one of Black’s most direct solo records yet.
While Show Me Your Tears certainly builds on the momentum of 2001’s Dog in the Sand, it’s also highly reminiscent of the more accessible moments from 1994’s Teenager of the Year. In fact, if you liked “(I Want to Live on an) Abstract Plain” or “Headache”, Show Me Your Tears should be right up your alley. Nowhere to be found are songs about UFOs, or squalling Pixies-derived noisefests—guitars are all over Show Me Your Tears, but always in the service of Black’s considerable gift for pop hooks. The weirdest Show Me Your Tears gets is the brilliant “Horrible Day”, a sardonic slice of country that would do Cracker proud with its imagery of Black’s worries knocking en masse upon his front door .
For their part, the Catholics have coalesced into a tight, sympathetic band for Black’s increasingly focused rock, and he apparently felt confident enough to record Show Me Your Tears straight onto two-track—without edits. Surely that means botched takes on the cutting room floor, but the immediacy and professionalism of what Black kept definitely comes across.
Black gets things off to a rollicking start with “Nadine”, a song with as much boom-kaboom femme-fatale low-end shimmy as anything he’s ever written. Full of lascivious thoughts about its pale-skinned goth goddesss namesake, “Nadine” never clues you in to whatever sadness the subject holds for Black. That’s a hallmark of Show Me Your Tears: Black’s opening up, but keeping his cards close to his chest. “Massif Centrale” exudes pleasant romance, but again, there’s no way to know the full story. On the other hand, there’s no mistaking the bittersweet sentiment and outright pain that informs other songs. “My Favorite Kiss” exudes weariness over the way the road pulls separates loved ones. “Goodbye Lorraine”, one of many songs about failed relationships, confesses, “We held hands in the temple / But we had no wedding day / Now she sends me perfumed letters / And I throw them all away”. Black reserves the harshest words for, presumably, himself. “The Snake” admits with predatory glee, “Well, I’m a snake oh yes I’m very smart / But I was cruel without a humble start / And I just laughed when you begged and you pleaded / Now I lay here cut in half ‘cause I’m not the one you needed”.
However, Black didn’t make his name on confessional poetry; he cemented his living legend status with noisy blasts of rock held together by tasty melodies. Since the Pixies’ demise, he’s consistently left more and more of the punkish aggression behind. The angry youth of his Pixies days seems to have been replaced by a more considered, though still aggressive, approach to his craft. “My Favorite Kiss” flirts with shimmery guitar tones vaguely reminiscent of Chris Isaak, “New House of the Pop” kicks off with a solemn piano intro that would fit into any Randy Newman song, and “Goodbye Lorraine” is pure pedal steel gallop. With its mix of mournful piano and Latin rhythms, “This Old Heartache” comes across like someone threw Calexico and Ben Folds on stage together. Texture’s always been a part of Black’s work, but on Show Me Your Tears, he seems to be coming into his own in terms of tastefully embellishing his songs. And yes, that trademark broad Pixies chord is all over Show Me Your Tears; every time you hear it, you can practically see the thousands of bands that sound inspired.
At this point, it’s rather pointless to compare Black’s solo work to the Pixies: his solo output nearly doubles his Pixies production, both in terms of studio albums and in years spanned. For all of his previous band’s influence, Black’s proven himself to be a viable artist with a lot of tricks up his sleeve. With recent albums like Dog in the Sand and Show Me Your Tears, he seems to be past the uneven years that produced The Cult of Ray. Show Me Your Tears is possibly the strongest album of Black’s solo career, and if he maintains this level of songwriting, we’re in for lots of good listening.
// Notes from the Road
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