Synths? Few would’ve expected liberal smatterings of them from a man who wakes up in the morning safe in the knowledge that his musical credibility is pretty much assured for life, being as he was the front man of the Pixies.
Petits Fours sees Black Francis testing the limits of such luxury with an album that is perhaps only for the most ardent of Pixie people, for Grand Duchy are Black Francis and his wife Violet Clark. Cast aside whatever your opinion may be of Francis. Irrespective of his musical shortcomings, he arguably has the rock ‘n’ roll credibility to attempt the most outlandish of musical feats and escape relatively unscathed.
However, the same cannot be said for his wife, whose inability to sing is the first stumbling block for Grand Duchy. For ample evidence of this, listen to The Long Song, where the vocal performance is dire. Like, really bad. The Long Song? Yes indeed.
Elsewhere, Fort Wayne, reportedly the first track written by Grand Duchy, sounds like an adolescent Jack Johnson who’s just found a toy keyboard, while the cool, angular guitars and wailing melodies of Black Suit are reminiscent of early U2, only with a really, really ill Bono.
If the bass riff didn’t sound like Grand Duchy had pressed ‘record’ having given said instrument to someone who’d never seen one before, then Break The Angels could do well as a soundtrack to a really aggravating children’s television programme – Francis happy to sit back and play some synth while his wife’s incessant, camp chorus vocal of “woohoo” gouges demonically at the credibility that Pixies worked long and hard to build.
To be fair to Grand Duchy, and as you might expect, the guitars sound consistently brilliant, be they strumming away acoustically, or drenched in delay and whining feedback. But if they’re whining for anything it’s better production. With the exception of Black Suit, the drums in particular are relentlessly annoying, mechanical and horribly gated, particularly on Break The Angels.
Petits Fours just has too many annoying bits about it to be good. Even down to the faux-spontaneous chat from Clark that opens Volcano! – “Is this song starting? I’m a little confused” trites Clark in a manner sufficiently annoying to cause violent thoughts. Even the good bits just make you think of something better. Take the guitar riff in Lovesick – it’s a complete rip-off The Rolling Stones‘ Brown Sugar.
Grand Duchy’s MySpace page features some spiel about treading a path less trodden. There’s a reason that path hasn’t been trodden. It leads to the demise of credibility, and the festering and stagnant sewers in which lie a sometime talent.