The older Frank Black gets, the less he sounds like himself -- something that probably happens to everybody at some point. But ever since Pudge let his monkey go to heaven, he flat-out refuses to scream at traffic anymore. Or at the powers that be. He's like a tired prospectin' punk gone back to the land. Monkeyless. Content to dig and to mumble.
Dog in the Sand is music for wide-open spaces -- with steel harps, Dobros and a jingle of spurs in an imitation of Aaron Copland majesty while Mexican kids throw rocks at dogs. On your left, you'll notice the indigenous purple flowers of mescaline ("Llano del Rio"). Truck-stop living in these parts can go on for miles. It's accessible and sometimes pretty scenery, though, with an occasional scorched bone thrown Joey Santiago's way ("Robert Onion," "Dog in the Sand") plus Frankie-boy's usual understated, overflustered, cliffhanger song logic. Just a word of caution, bookworms: Don't expect more than one-fourth of what you loved so much about the Pixies or their reckless Boston approach to Ivy League punk. Expect wit dry as widowhood. Country manners. And bring a sandwich.
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"Blast Off" sounds like Lou Reed and Dr. John discussing chemicals over weak coffee. "St. Francis Dam Disaster" tests the theory that water seeks its own level (sounds like an election I once heard of). As ever, when Francis lets his Black Irish get the better of him, it makes for better storytelling -- like that one where the guy waits for the other shoe to drop . . . just so he can pick it up and kill something with it. Beefheart accomplice Eric Drew Feldman infects both the piano keys and the clavioline, offering '50s sock-hop/slow-dance ("Stupid Me"), cubist blues and beyond.
Along the way, Frank looks for Aldous Huxley and finds the ghost of Johnny Horton. He tries on Samuel Beckett's pants. And even turns into a dog. What else could go wrong? Plenty! A little fella named Hermaphrodito runs around trying to touch herself. Maybe if finding meaning in the desert is possible, it has something to do with never having to say you're thirsty. Or tired. Or lost. Or too stubborn to ask for directions . . . or what those buzzards are doing.