Music Review: Grand Duchy – Petit Fours

Release date: 2009 Genre: Indie Pop Label: Red Ink Records

Rating: listened to: often

Grand Duchy is not just Frank Black’s latest solo project. Instead, Frank Black merely is a band member of a two-person band headed by Violet Clark (who just happens to be his wife)… and Violet Clark, she is in a word spectacular! Part Madonna, part Kim Deal, part Kristin Hersh, but always Violet Clark, she channels various female alt-rock leaders and pop stars but never imitates them. She’s having a great time, and Frank Black and the listeners happily go along for the ride. If it weren’t for the fact that the album references a lot of indie music (in a good, self-assured way) instead of presenting something entirely new, I would have rated it five stars. But then again, maybe using that as a criterion would make it impossible to rate an album five stars nowadays. Petit Fours succeeds completely in what it sets out to achieve.

The album starts with Come over to my house and from this you might be lulled into expecting Frank Black to be in charge. He’s in fine form, and as usual I love the lyrics. Come on over to my house / I’ll make you buckets of tea. He may be ironic in his songs, but he’s always sincere and never pathetic. Violet Clark takes over next, continuing the theme and celebrating love in Lovesick: Don’t stop for breathing / leave it when you’re older / Listen to that devil on your shoulder / Don’t stop for reasons / be a little bolder / Everybody’s got their lovesick seasons.

Fort Wayne is apparently the oldest song on the set list. Pleasant, but not really remarkable in my opinion. It did however rightly raise expectations for the forthcoming album when it was played in concerts.

Their age obviously works for Frank Black and Violet Clark. They’re veterans of rock and of love and don’t mind showing it on this record. Black Suit, the highlight of the album, benefits from this perspective. And the song itself is just plain awesome, with perfect vocal deliveries from both Black and Clark and an insidious post-punk sound reminding me of Killing Joke and Echo and the Bunnymen (or Interpol, for a more recent obvious comparison). Soul slipping down the coal chute into the alien mine / The boy looks good in a black suit / we all know that he looks divine! I’ll probably never figure out exactly what the song is about, but the glimpse offered by the lyrics is tantalizing.

On the other songs Violet Clark is teasing, jubilant, or just sweet. The album fittingly closes the party with Volcano! Violet Clarks starts with Is this song starting? / I’m a little confused before morphing into Kristin Hersh, but by then we’re already in on the joke. Everybody on the dance floor, to celebrate love and three decades of alternative music.

I can highly recommend the album. Lately, I have been collecting albums that are good-natured in tone without being flat, boring or embarrassing (although I still like my gloom and doom… albums from bands like Tindersticks, Sisters of Mercy remain more than welcome). When it comes to this, Frank Black always delivers. I do not agree at all with the (otherwise positive) Allmusic review where they call the album a bit long – both Break the angels and Fort Wayne are fine songs.

track list
1. Come on over to my house
2. Lovesick
3. Fort Wayne
4. Seeing stars
5. Black suit
6. The long song
7. Break the angels
8. Ermesinde
9. Volcano!

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