Oddballs (silver vinyl re-issue)
Rarities and b-sides albums are a bit of a well, oddity, but this is an especially good example of this type of album. It is perhaps comparable to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Barbed Wire Kisses (which after all contained one of their best singles, Sidewalking) in the sense of it being strong enough to be considered as a worthy stand-alone album, although I would argue that Oddballs is better.
This is so much more than an album simply for the most avid collectors (in this case, Pixies geeks, the oddballs, even). This particular rarities LP contains just the one previously unreleased track, Jumping Beans which skips along to a bouncy beat, its repeated lyrics making this reviewer think just a little of the Pixies song I’ve Been Tired. Although of course, with this release being a second reissue (Oddballs was first put out in 2000, before a vinyl reissue in 2013), likely keen fans will either have already heard or even own this track. The special thing about this reissue is that it’s on silver vinyl. I believe this is just the second piece of ‘silverware’ that had come into my possession in vinyl terms, the other being a 10″ of Sonic Youth’s Bull in the Heather. Sonic Youth – now there’s a band who are of course on the more experimental side, a group whose albums might regularly contain tracks that sound as if they could be out-takes.
Other than the fact that this is an enjoyable record to listen to, quite playful and fun, it’s clear that it’s not just a quick cobbled together collection. Indeed, with every single song, Black Francis says in the sleeve notes that he is “trying to be” like one or other of, presumably, some amongst his personal favourite singers – Dylan, Bowie, Daltrey, Strummer and others all get a mention, some more than once. They are all singers who have gone before him, rather than any more recent singers he might have become a fan of. Of course, many Pixies fans might feel that Black Francis himself is a more significant artist than some of those he references – let’s face it, if it was customary for other artists to do the same thing and list references for each individual track, I’m sure Frank Black or the Pixies would get a significant number of name checks. I think in paying reverence this demonstrates Frank Black’s humble nature. Despite the fact that I still consider the Pixies to be one of the best ever live bands, and that Black Francis has one of the most extraordinary vocal ranges of any rock singer (how he has survived significant damage to his vocal cords over the years, I have no idea), when I met him briefly at a record signing in Spillers Records in Cardiff a couple of years back, he did come across as very much lacking in ego.
I confess that after the Pixies first split up, I did not follow his solo career particularly closely. I heard his first solo album, but not much else after that. I bought his mini-album, Svn Fngrs which I quite fondly recall buying (from Spillers as it happens) using some winnings from a micro-stakes poker tournament when I’d first started playing online for money (not my wisest ever choice). I did quite like that particular CD, but I think I was not especially inspired to pursue Frank Black’s career again until the Pixies reformed. I think if I was buying records between the mid-90s and early 00s, it was mostly dance 12″s. Well, once again, particularly given how much I’ve enjoyed this record, that’s something I rue a little. But perhaps these things happen for a reason – perhaps I was meant to have a break from Frank and indie rock in general for a bit, so that on returning to the fold, perhaps around the later 00s, I could once again fall in love with the genre that was my main passion in my youth.
To go through some of the running order of Oddballs, it begins nicely with the tuneful Pray A Little Faster, which contains a lyric perhaps fitting for the Corona age, “Turn off the TV and put away your toys”. If only the next lyric was “You can do what you want to do” rather than (correctly in this song), “You can’t…”
If you consider the next track Oddball to be a simple homage to the oddballs of society, you could say of course that it’s reminiscent of Debaser in that sense at least. Fourth track in, Baby That’s Art, is one that I would say comes closest in terms of “trying to be” (some do not so much in this respect, not that this matters), in this case trying to be like Bowie. Skipping forward again to Can I Get A Witness, one of the most melodic on the album, and therefore reminiscent of the Pixies’ Here Comes Your Man. Perhaps not as grungy as some might like, but it’s an enjoyable song. Concluding song on the A-side is Announcement, this one trying to be Daltrey, and he does sound like an angry Roger Daltrey, particularly towards the end. Fantastic guitar outro on this track which rounds off side A very nicely and makes you think that this album was always intended as a two-sided record rather than a single-sided CD.
The B-side kicks off with Hate Me, which I believe was originally released around the time of Nirvana’s Rape Me – not sure which one was first, and besides, they are not that similar, except perhaps that both feature repeated lyrics. Hate Me is really a tongue-in-cheek song though, perhaps more reminiscent of Amyl and the Sniffers’ I’m Not a Loser. The B-side features two great covers – Roxy Music’s Remake/Remodel and the second being Just A Little, originally by The Beau Brummels. The first cover is Francis “trying to be” Sahm, who I had to Google, and I assume is country singer, Doug Sahm. According to Wikipedia, just one of Sahm’s 27 singles were placed in any chart – Cowboy Peyton Place which peaked at no.100 in the US country chart – which would indicate he may be considered quite an obscure artist even in the US. The Beau Brummels were also a band I had not heard of, so a little bit of extra interest/things to look into for certainly non US Pixies/Frank Black fans at least. The B-side also features the already-mentioned, good fun Jumping Beans, and then rounds off with, well, I suppose you’d have to call it a ballad, and certainly not a bad one, with Black Francis crooning that he feels alone, wishing that there were stairs reaching for the heavens (sure I’ve heard that before somewhere?). This is one of the two songs where Francis is, he says, trying to be himself.
Overall, this, in my view, really is a superb album, which should definitely in any Pixies fan’s collection. I have seen other reviews that mention fillers on it, but I did not hear any, which is pretty impressive for an out-takes album – way beyond what many bands will achieve in a lifetime of regular studio albums. The overall sound is definitely more akin to earlier Pixies (ie. from before they split up), and so should appeal to most Pixies fans for that reason alone – I’ve yet to be completely convinced by any Pixies album post-reform. You may disagree with re-issues, but I can only assume the 2013 edition of this LP on vinyl has sold out, and so that now is very much a thing you should desire to own in addition to this sparkly silver version.