Frank Black and the Catholics

Pistolero

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After the creative nadir of The Cult of Ray and Frank Black and the Catholics' disappointingly straightforward punk-pop, Frank Black's fifth solo album, Pistolero, is something of a return to form. Though he still opts for a stripped-down production style, his songwriting is both more natural and more intriguing on clever, driving pop songs like "Skeleton Man" and "I Love Your Brain," an off-kilter rocker that lives up to its title. Once again, Black's poppier songs are his most creative, as "Billy Radcliffe," a bouncy, melancholy elegy to the first boy born in space, and the shimmery, whimsical "85 Weeks" prove. Pistolero's rock songs range from the menacing "I Switched You" -- which also boasts some refreshingly ferocious vocals from Black -- to monotonous punk-pop like "I Want Rock & Roll," "I Think I'm Starting to Lose It," and "Smoke Up," all of which recall the most tedious moments of The Cult of Ray and Frank Black and the Catholics. Black's ambitious, subversive style of old tries to resurface on the epic "So Hard to Make Things Out," the vibrant "Western Star," and the tightly written "Tiny Heart," but Pistolero's back-to-basics production gives the songs a simplistic, bar band feel that doesn't do them justice. However, the strangely Stones-ish ballad "You're Such a Wire" and the earnest "Bad Harmony" actually benefit from the album's no-frills sound, and "So. Bay" somehow combines surfy guitars and extreme dynamics without sounding like the Pixies. It's a frustratingly inconsistent album, but it revives the interesting qualities of Frank Black's earlier albums without rehashing them. Though a more imaginative production would have suited it better, Pistolero suggests that Black's best work may not be behind him.

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