September 2005

Arts & Letters

‘Honeycomb’ by Frank Black

By Robert Forster

This is a Sunday afternoon barbecue record: people milling about, sausages turning, maybe some Mexican beer. “Who’s this?” someone asks. “It’s the guy who used to be in The Pixies,” someone else replies. There are blank looks until another person, the owner of the record perhaps, adds: “He’s gone to Nashville and made a country album with some famous old players. Sounds good, doesn’t it.” And it does. People nod, the dog barks and Honeycomb drifts nicely around the garden encircled by the picket fence.

The sleeve credits pronounce that “no digital manipulation was used”, and the sound is lovely, warm and rich, picking up every lick those old players – Steve Cropper, Reggie Young, Buddy Miller, pianist Spooner Oldham – lay down. It’s the dream-team a record collector would put forward if they were asked to assemble a band. And in a roundabout way that is the album’s pitch: alternative rock god cuts loose off-the-cuff album with super-respected A-list older guys he digs.

For the most part it works. Black’s voice breaks and croaks and can then go pure honey. His songwriting is professional enough and inspired in places – “I Burn Today” and “Sing For Joy” – while other songs roll and move in ways we have heard before. His strength is melody, his weakness lyrics, which tend to match first-thought rhyme with irritating stream-of-consciousness logic. The three covers come with mixed results. Do we really need another version of “Dark End of the Street”? But it’s almost as if Honeycomb is operating on another level. The concept works. It’s not background music and yet it slides into the background, with a classic ’70s feel, so that back at the barbecue someone is saying “isn’t this a great record?” – when, in fact, it’s not.

Robert Forster

Robert Forster is a singer-songwriter and co-founder of The Go-Betweens. His collection of music criticism, The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll, was published in 2009.

Cover: September 2005

September 2005

From the front page

Image of Jennifer Westacott

Big bank tax cuts

The Business Council is on a very sticky wicket

Image from ‘Atlanta’

‘Atlanta’: thrillingly subversive

Donald Glover’s uncommon blend of the everyday and the absurd makes a masterful return

Image of Peter Dutton

South African farmers: we will decide

Australia, refugees and the politics of fear

Image from ‘The Americans’

‘The Americans’, the Russians and the perils of parallels

Why sometimes it’s better to approach art on its own terms


In This Issue

Comment

Love Story

A vision of a world where adults and children are equals. ‘Motherhood’ by Anne Manne
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

She is somewhere

The beautiful & the damned clunky

Laura Linney and Topher Grace in ‘P.S.’

More in Arts & Letters

Image of Pompeii

Ceridwen Dovey’s ‘In the Garden of the Fugitives’

Reality flexes at the edges of Dovey’s second novel

Still from The Death of Stalin

Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Death of Stalin’

This Soviet satire pushes comedy’s tragedy-plus-time formula to the limit

Young Fathers’ ‘Cocoa Sugar’

The Scottish group’s third album proves they don’t sound like anyone else

Installation view of Mass by Ron Mueck, 2016–17

The NGV Triennial

A new exhibition series’ first instalment delivers a heady mix of populism and politics


More in Noted

Tim Winton’s ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’

One of Australia’s most acclaimed novelists offers a painful and beautiful story of redemption

Zadie Smith’s ‘Feel Free’

In this collection of essays, Smith shines when she’s addressing the personal

‘The Only Story’ by Julian Barnes

The meticulous novelist takes on the oldest subject there is

‘Lady Bird’ directed by Greta Gerwig

The debut director goes home to make a funny, touching film about wanting to leave it


Read on

Image from ‘Atlanta’

‘Atlanta’: thrillingly subversive

Donald Glover’s uncommon blend of the everyday and the absurd makes a masterful return

Image of Peter Dutton

South African farmers: we will decide

Australia, refugees and the politics of fear

Image from ‘The Americans’

‘The Americans’, the Russians and the perils of parallels

Why sometimes it’s better to approach art on its own terms

Image of Hugh Grant in ‘Maurice’

Merchant Ivory connects gilded surfaces with emotional depth

Restraint belies profundity in ‘Maurice’, ‘Howards End’ and more


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