The last proper studio album released by Frank Black with the Catholics was Show Me Your Tears from 2003. Released around when the artist was in the process of divorcing his first wife, the title allegedly coming from his therapist’s order to “show me your tears.” Not surprisingly, songs about heartbreak and longing dominate the record.
Nadine – I’m not sure if Nadine is based on any specific person, but I notice echos of women from earlier songs Frank wrote to the character. Nadine is dressed “head to toe in black” and has “skin like a ghost,” bringing to mind the woman “all dressed in black” in “Subbacultcha,” and the girl in “Is She Weird?” who’s “white” and “promised to the night.” Musically, this one is a great starter, with a good rhythm thrcoughout and noisy guitar part at the end.
Everything Is New – A slow, sad song about the deaths of some actual musicians. The first verse is about Chet Baker and how he died after falling out a hotel window in Amsterdam. The second describes how Hank Williams and Johnny Horton were both married to the same woman, and both died in car accidents after playing the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.
My Favorite Kiss – Basically a song about how having to leave the person you love can be romantic. The sound and listing of places come across as very typical Frank.
Jaina Blues – A keyboard-heavy song about Jainism, which Frank seems to have an interest in, although I don’t think he’s a full-on Jainist. It mentions all of the Four Virtues: Maitri, Pramoda, Karuna, and Madhyastha.
New House of the Pope – This one is basically about drinking due to depression, but there are some clever references, as detailed in the Discopedia. The title is a literal translation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a wine made near Avignon, the new seat of the papacy during the Great Schism. It’s traditionally made from thirteen kinds of grapes, hence the thirteen kisses.
Horrible Day – The lyrics here switch between pessimistic and optimistic, basically saying that bad things are unavoidable, but there are ways to avoid them. There’s an oddly specific reference to Frank’s “imminent divorce,” which actually did take place not long after he wrote the song. I can’t say trading your VCR for drug money is something I support, but I like the song. It has a good, kind of deceptively fun country-rock sound to it.
Massif Centrale – This is definitely one of my favorites on the record. It has kind of an epic feel, building up as it goes along, with a lot of Frank singing falsetto. It’s basically about going to live in an isolated part of central France. The region in question is actually called Massif Central, but Frank added an E to the end and apparently can’t remember why.
When Will Happiness Find Me Again? – A pretty straightforward sad breakup song. There’s kind of a heavy sound to the vocals that’s quite effective. I particularly like the way Frank sings the bridge, basically just speaking some of the lines.
Goodbye Lorraine – Another breakup song, with a full-on country sound to it. The lyrics apparently refer to the Lorraine region in France, giving the title two possible meanings. Since the girl mentions witches, there’s a connection to Nadine being a “witchy lady” who’s “cooking up some spells.”
This Old Heartache – I find this to be one of the most forgettable songs on this album, but that doesn’t make it bad. The vocal is kind of haunting, the piano and guitar work well together, and the “ah-ah-ah” part is cool. It just kind of gets lost in the mix.
The Snake – A short rock number based on Chinese astrology. Frank, born in April 1965, is a Snake. I actually am as well, having been born twelve years later. The implication is that his wife Jean was a Rabbit, but I don’t know if this has been confirmed. I know he’s said his current wife is of a supposedly compatible sign. I find it interesting that the narrator blames himself as well as his partner for the breakup. There’s also a cool saxophone solo. I can distinctly recall hearing this song on the radio, which is rare for Frank’s non-Pixies music.
Coastline – This track brings in a harmonica and uses a lot of steel guitar. I’m fond of the opening line: “There’s a perfect explanation for the shit that I’ve been in/Soon as I find out, I’ll let you know.”
Manitoba – This is based on a true story Frank heard from a friend of Jean’s about someone who received brain damage from staying out in the cold. She was also rendered unable to speak, and was confined to a mental institution. It’s sung from the point of view of this person, and has some nicely poetic lyrics. Some time ago, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants mentioned this as a current favorite of his, and while I know TMBG are major supporters of Frank in general, I wonder if he was particularly drawn to this one because of the prominent accordion part.
Some time after the release of the album, Frank put out an iTunes exclusive EP containing four tracks that had been cut from it. I said a bit about them here, and I must say it was difficult to find that post. For some reason, Google doesn’t want to show any of my LiveJournal entries that are more than ten years old. Hey, I can hardly believe it’s been that long. Anyway, I might as well add those to the mix:
A Dab’ll Do Ya – With the title and refrain based on an old slogan for Brylcreem (also apparently the inspiration for Fred Flintstone’s “yabba dabba doo”), this song has a much rougher sound than most of what made it to the album. Kind of interesting, as this was a generally mellower period for Frank’s music, but he’d return to harder stuff in a few years.
Don’t Clip Your Wings – This one sort of reminds me of “Horrible Day” in that it’s kind of sad lyrically, but with an upbeat sound. I get the impression that it’s about feeling he’s holding his partner back. It’s too short to really go much of anywhere, but I do find it worth mentioning that it refers to Cleopatra. I think Frank has said he and Jean had a thing about her being the reincarnation of the Egyptian queen, which probably also relates to “Letter to Memphis.”
Preacher’s Daughter – My favorite of these four has a somewhat old-fashioned sound to it. I guess the fact that the title puts me in mind of “Son of a Preacher Man” is part of it. The chorus is quite catchy, and the steel guitar used well.
Show Me Your Tears – It’s weird when the title track doesn’t make the album, but it’s hardly the only time this has happened. It’s pretty straightforward lyrically, with a fast rock sound to the music. I like the very brief solo.
While later releases included a collection of Catholics B-sides and a recording of a live concert, this basically marked the end of that era. After that, it was Frank Black and the Protestants. No, seriously, he used Nashville session musicians on the next two albums. We’ll probably take a look at those next time.