Frank Black – “Oddballs”

(Photo Credit: Amazon)

Grade: C

Key Tracks: “Pray a Little Faster,” “Man of Steel”

“Oddballs” was originally released in 2000, but only online and was not widely publicized. For whatever reason, he chose to release it in CD form thirteen years later. It seems like an odd choice, given that the Pixies just released a new single, but maybe that’s the exact reason – it might be more publicized if people are searching for new Pixies music. “Oddballs” might be stumbled across, giving it the attention it never got. That said, it is just a compilation of music Black recorded that were B-sides or didn’t make it on other albums. B-side compilations are, traditionally, boring and pretty useless. “Oddballs” is better than most, but still falls to some subpar tracks and ideas that should not have been acted upon.

The songs on the album were recorded between 1994 and 1997, the three years after the Pixies’ initial break-up. The songs, on the whole, maintain the intensity of the music of his former band, while distinctly sounding like a solo artist. There is no screaming and wailing, no Kim Deal on bass and no lyrics about bodily mutilation, separating it from the Pixies. It just often maintains the speed and volume of the Pixies’ albums.

Lyrically, it is far less interesting than Black’s former (and present) band. One of the two best tracks, “Pray a Little Faster” is darkly entertaining, but other tracks with titles like “Can I Get a Witness” and “Everybody Got the Beat” approach the exact, oft-extracted ideas that the titles sound like. Black’s attempts to separate his solo work and be seen as a viable solo artist are beneficial, but tracks like the ones on “Oddballs” do make the listener yonder for classic Pixies songs instead.

Something should be said for the album’s surprising flow. Given that it is a compilation, there is no expectation of it working as an actual album, just a collection of misplaced tracks. But Black structures it so it flows and never stays on one idea for too long. The opener (the aforementioned “Pray”) kicks off with a bang, that is sustained until the album’s midpoint, the only two songs over four minutes mix things up. The album’s closer and other best song, “Man of Steel” works perfectly as an outro, with a bombastic repeating coda. The song was likely written as a closing song that never found it’s place.

“Oddballs” is better than most rarities collections, but it is still barely good enough to stand on it’s own legs. It separates Black from the Pixies, but the album’s imperfections remind listeners of just how perfect the latter really was. Black’s “Oddballs” more often than not sounds a little too traditional and most of the ideas are not fleshed out enough. “Oddballs” should please die-hard Black fans, and likely only them.

If you like this, try: If you’re into rarities, check out “Little Johnny Jewel” and “Untitled Instrumental,” two songs that got cut from Television’s legendary “Marquee Moon” and are just as good as every song on the album.

-By Andrew McNally