Release Date: Mar 15, 2011
Record label: Bureau Records
Although music from the legendary Pixies has shown up in films like Unbreakable and Fight Club, Black Francis scored the entirety of director Paul Wegener’s 1920 German Expressionist classic The Golem: How He Came into the World in 2008 and released the soundtrack as a limited-edition, two-disc collection in early 2010. The rest of us get a shot at this single-disc rock opera derived from the original score, which should nevertheless fit nicely in between Pistolero and Dog in the Sand on the shelves of Black Francis loyalists. Impassioned but measured strummers like “Bad News” and “The Obedient Servant” recall winsome tunes from Frank Black’s back pages, while the klezmer-rock of “The Word” and soul-pop of “Astaroth” could have shown up on Teenager of the Year.
Trimmed down from the five-disc extravaganza Black Francis sold in a limited edition of 500 copies on his website, this version of The Golem focuses more on his full-fledged songs for the 1920 silent horror film The Golem: How He Came into the World and less on his instrumental cues. While this decision might disappoint some of the film and film score geeks among Francis' fans, the album still has plenty to offer, not the least of which is Francis' reunion with longtime collaborator Eric Drew Feldman. Feldman's keyboards and Francis' voice and guitar just sound natural -- and immediately recognizable -- together.
Even without the obvious physical resemblance, it’s easy to see why Black Francis might be interested in the creature called the Golem. His lyrics have always been preoccupied with monsters and aliens and dark conspiracies, while his music — with its off-kilter chords and angular surf guitar solos — consistently pushes at the boundaries of the weird. Indeed, if Stephen Malkmus is the Gene Kelly of indie rock, then Black Francis is its Boris Karloff; no matter how much green makeup he’s wearing, he lets you see the uncanny kernel of human longing inside what otherwise might seem monstrous or perverse.
In Jewish folklore, a golem is a human-like creature made of mud and animated by the word of a holy man. It's a pale imitation of God's creation of Adam-- close but not quite, because a golem has no free will and can only obey commands. In the most popular version of the myth, a rabbi in Prague creates a golem to protect the city's Jews from persecution, but the monster grows violent and out of control.
Black Francis (or Frank Black, or what-have-you) has always immersed his music in the paranormal, the epic, the mythic. Whether it was UFOs on 1993’s kinda-self-titled Frank Black, or the grand, religious overtones of “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, Francis isn’t exactly the type to worry that his themes are getting too expansive. He’s constantly searching for the connection between the human and the other, looking at our projections of self onto monsters and aliens.
If The Golem Rock Album is your first post-Pixies experience with Charles K. Thompson—the only consistent name throughout his musical career as Black Francis, Frank Black and, lurking on Internet fan forums, frankusblackus—a couple things will be apparent immediately that are worth mentioning. First, his voice has changed. There’s more grit in his growl, and that’s to be expected considering the Pixies last fooled the world with an album 19 years ago (let’s hear your pipes now compared to those of 1991).