My first totally pointless post: A track-by-track guide to Frank Black's "Teenager of the Year"
For no other reason than I brought it to work with me today (work??) I will now give a track-by-track review of Frank Black's epic second solo CD, Teenager of the Year (release date: 1994). Ahem…
track 1 -- "Whatever happened to pong?" Indeed. I'm dating myself here (and since breaking up with my girlfriend I'm dating myself in another sense, but let's not dwell on that) but one of my earliest memories in sitting at home buried in the shag carpeting and listening to the boop-boop-boop noises as I played on my family's super-high-tech Pong system. Frank truly catches the essence of playing Pong when he sings in the chorus: "Paddle the paddle to the side to the side / To the side to the side to the paddle the paddle / Paddle the paddle the side to the side / Pong / Ball in the machine." This song is one minute and 33 seconds long and could probably be described as a "rave up" if I weren’t worried about sounding like a complete idiot. We're off to a rousing start!
track 2 -- "Thalassocracy." This song is also 1:33. Fuck yeah! This is one of the best and catchiest song on the album and rocks like all get out, even by Pixies standards. Frank teases us by *nearly* howling in Black Francis Banshee style. Damn great one-two punch to get things started off here. What the hell is a thalassocracy? OK I just looked it up, according to the very concise Merriam-Webster online dictionary it means "maritime supremacy." Still this doesn't really illuminate lyrics like "The Inuit man / had not so much a Caesar / He had provision / Say / You're spraying in the windy / And I'm just pissing off." God bless Frank Black.
track 3 -- "I want to live on an abstract plain." Frank slows the pace down to mid-tempo and expands past the 2-minute mark (just). I identify strongly with these lyrics: "I've had it with this town…I want to live on an abstract plain / I'm building a frame / A place to put my ten-yard stare." This is a brilliant pop song, catchy and melodic and it pretty much seems to sum up Frank's life philosophy. After you listen to this song it will burrow deep into your head and play on continuous repeat until you hear something equally hummable like Terry Jacks' "Season in the Sun" or "Get It Poppin'" by Fat Joe. Also there's an excellent one-chord piano solo where Eric Drew Feldman plays the same chord 34 times in row by my rough count. Abstract indeed.
track 4 -- "Calistan." This song breaks the 3-minute mark. Warning, warning! The tempo slows down a little more and Frank indulges his Southwestern and Navajo-alien fetishes. Mention made of karaoke. Rhymes "John Wayne" with "Mexican." Great rousing chorus, things still look pretty encouraging.
track 5 -- "The Vanishing Spies." Another slow 3-minute-pluser. Standout lyric: "Well that's just how some things just don't materialize." Second song in a row where somewhat dull verses alternate with swooning, majestic choruses. There a wonky, very non-Joey Santiago solo for about the last minute of the song.
track 6 -- "Speedy Marie." Not so speedy actually, still pretty mellow. Chorus not quite rousing enough this time around. Use of slide guitar. Song almost saved by cool coda section that breaks down to bass and vocal and builds with guitar and theremin-sounding keyboard.
track 7 -- "Headache." More sweetly melodic mid-tempoish whimsy from our rotund troubadour. "My heart is crammed in my cranium and it still knows how to pound." Good line. This is almost country rock though I wouldn't mistake it for Flying Burrito Brothers. Frank is almost crooning! Hey, great you took some singing lessons but I wanna hear some vocal chords ripping dammit.
track 8 -- "Sir Rockaby." Help, help!! Too slow, let's pick it up Frank. Nearly somnambulant, thus the title I guess. But this is no "Havalina" (the sublime track that closed Bossanova). You at least need Kim Deal’s otherworldly "oohs" and "aahs" to carry this sort of thing off.
track 9 -- "Freedom Rock." Great title if you remember those late night commercials for the classic/stoner rock compilations. Nice sarcasm: "My name is Chip / and I'm different / I don't conform I wear a different uniform." Finally some energy is injected! Unfortunately the song breaks down into a quasi-reggae section in the middle but then it rocks out at the end. Beautiful guitar countermelody in last verse.
track 10 -- "Two reelers." Now we're starting to mix and match elements from past songs on the album. Rave up verses alternate with big sweeping choruses. Pretty good but not as good as opening tracks. Wait, Frank actually lets rip with the manic howling around the 2:00 minute mark but sounds surprisingly kind of constipated. Nodules?
track 11 -- "Fiddle riddle." More quasi reggae. WTF? 3:30 running time feels like about 10 minutes.
track 12 -- "Ole Mulholland." At 4:41 this must be the longest song to date in the Pixies/Frank Black catalogue. There's a spoken bit about concrete aqueducts. Frank even sounds a little bored singing this song. I appreciate he's trying to escape his Pixies heritage here but maybe he could do it in more concise fashion.
track 13 -- "Fazer Eyes." More mid-tempo whimsy. I've listening to this album plenty of times but I barely remember this song at all except for the chorus vaguely. I guess by this point I'm usually washing the dishes or working on my bellybutton lint collection.
track 14 -- "I could stay here forever." And indeed he will, there's still nine more tracks to go. Still this man knows how to write a good hook, the falsetto repetition of the title is pretty sweet.
track 15 -- "The Hostess with the mostess." One minute and 56 seconds of just plain weirdness. And that's not a bad thing. Starts off with Angus Young-sounding riffage and then jumps straight into a rockabilly section, and then briefly into epic ballad territory and fades to a fake calliope creepy keyboard part. The man has lots of ideas.
track 16 -- "Superabound." Another ballad with slide guitar to boot. Uh, well, it's only a ballad for about the first 40 seconds and then into funky guitar and Farfisa sounding keyboard. Guitar solo has a nice surf rock tone. Sample lyric: "So I bought a ticket to the freaks / I saw a chicken with two heads / Saw something else that was headless / Then P.T. said see the egress." Call me when the aliens land, Frank.
track 17 -- "Big Red." Mid-tempo. Rambling lyrics about space travel and Martian landscapes. Verses settle into a gentle groove, alternate with catchy soaring choruses. Am I starting to repeat myself?
track 18 -- "Space is gonna do me good." See track 17.
track 19 -- "White noise maker." I swear I've never heard this before. Wow, this album is long. Lyric: "I'm headed for the stereo store / To get a white noise maker and turn it up to ten." But our white noise makers go to eleven! (gratuitous Spinal Tap reference earns one public flogging) There is actually a white noise maker solo at the end.
track 20 -- "Pure denizen of the citizens band." Wow, this album is long.
track 21 -- "Bad, wicked world." In typically perverse fashion, Frank put one of the mutherfrikkin best songs in the next to last slot after over an hour total running time. Less than two minutes long and it rocks fiercely. I desperately want to sing this song. It’s about "architect David Vincent" who (as revealed by a web search) was the lead character on a late-1960s series that ran for three seasons on ABC called The Invaders. Each week the show was introduced thusly: "The Invaders: Alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: The Earth. Their purpose: To make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a short cut that he never found. It began with a closed deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now, David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun." Just in case you wanted to know.
track 22 -- "Pie in the sky." There are 22 natural lakes in the Coastal Plain. There are 22 paired autosomes and 2 X chromosomes in a female body cell. There are 22 paths on the Tree of Life.