Frank Black and the Catholics is the first release to use this name for the backing band, although the performers are actually the same as on the previous record. I’ve heard that the name was sort of a joke on how many (maybe all?) of the members were raised Catholic. I’m pretty sure Frank himself was not; I think he said his birth father was a pagan and his stepfather an evangelical Protestant. The songs were recorded live to two-track, which became the standard operating procedure for the Catholics. It also gets away from the science fiction themes that were so prominent on Frank’s first three solo albums. The songs are arranged in alphabetical order, although the last song beginning with “the” is a little bit of a cheat in this respect.
All My Ghosts – I downloaded this album for eMusic, and for some reason it doesn’t include the very beginning of this track, where the band plays a bit of the Green Acres theme before starting the actual song. Anyway, it’s one of my favorites, both musically and lyrically. The verse about the angels refers to the Nephilim from the book of Genesis, and the second to the aftermath of the North Hollywood shootout in 1997. I don’t know whether the Seven Horrors refers to anything in particular, other than a play on the Seven Wonders of the World. Apparently the BBC had a poll to the determine the Seven Horrors of Britain, but that was after the release of this song. There also appears to be a reference to a clone of King Henry VIII.
Back to Rome – This one seems to be comparing a failed relationship to the fall of Rome. The lyrics at frankblack.net give one repeated line as “Sun bitch gon’ get you,” which I remember being discussed on the forum. It could just be a combination of “son of a bitch” with the importance of solar deities in the Roman Empire, but I don’t know for sure. I think this is also the second song in which Frank uses the word “behemoth,” the first being “I Could Stay Here Forever.”
Do You Feel Bad About It? – A quite lyrically straightforward and rather short song from Frank, begging someone to forgive him and take him back.
Dog Gone – Definitely one of the more memorable songs on this album, it sounds pretty emotional without it being entirely clear what it’s about. According to the writer, it has a religious sound, but isn’t really about religion. I think I read somewhere that it was based on something his wife said about the world ending when her dog died, but I might have that slightly wrong. There’s some dark wordplay involved, both with the title and the repeated “the news is gonna break/the noose is gonna break.” One of the place names mentioned is Memphis, perhaps a callback to the Pixies’ love song “Letter to Memphis,” which Frank said was about the city in Egypt. He’s made mention that he regarded his ex-wife as the reincarnation of Cleopatra. The video references a British comedy series I’d never heard of previously, featuring an in-character Nigel Buxton. While I don’t know how the character is in the actual show, in the video he’s basically a doomsday prophet, fitting in with the theme of the song and Frank’s fondness for wandering eccentrics.
I Gotta Move – From what I understand, this is about the murder of Peter Ivers, who wrote and sang “In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)” for the movie Eraserhead, a song the Pixies covered and that Frank briefly quotes in this song. He was found bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his Los Angeles apartment in 1983, and it’s never been found who did it. It’s a disturbing subject for a fairly upbeat song, with some good backing vocals on it.
I Need Peace – A paranoid number about how difficult it is to avoid the chaos of the world. Although it’s the longest song on the the record, there actually aren’t very many lyrics, much of it being instrumental or repeating the chorus.
King and Queen of Siam – I can’t say I really know what this song is about, but it’s an enjoyable rock number.
Six Sixty-Six – A cover of a song about the Antichrist by Larry Norman, a pioneer of Christian rock whom Frank saw perform at summer camp when he (Frank) was thirteen. He referenced Norman in the song “Levitate Me,” and the two of them later became friends. While the original is a soft folk number, the Catholics reinterpret it as country-tinged rock.
Solid Gold – I believe Frank mentioned this as being about driving on the notorious Interstate 405 in Los Angeles, with other drivers shouting, cursing, and flipping him the bird.
Steak ‘n’ Saber – The name supposedly comes from a restaurant Frank wanted to open, but he’s also said the song is quite abstract. One line mentions Trobrianders, and the Trobriand Islands in Papau New Guinea are known for using sweet potatoes as currency and their acceptance of polyamory.
Suffering – A pretty straightforward bitter post-breakup song. Honestly, I sometimes get this one and “Solid Gold” mixed up.
The Man Who Was Too Loud – A song about Jonathan Richman, a highly influential musician whose early work was considered proto-punk, but switched to playing acoustic music in the mid-1970s. He was known to have said that overly loud rock music is “a hindrance to communication and intimacy.” While not directly named in the lyrics, he’s punningly referenced with the line “Johnny is a rich man.” The king of the surf guitar is Dick Dale, for whom Richman opened back in 1990 or so.