Frank Black has always produced his best work when his more masculine tendencies are tempered by a feminine touch, and such proves the case on Petits Fours, on which he and his wife, Violet Clark, join forces as Grand Duchy. It was an alliance, if not of opposing forces, then of opposing attitudes. "She digs the Eighties," claims Black. "I had spent the latter part of the Eighties doing my part to destroy the Eighties." Yet the decade is the dominant touchstone for Petits Fours, with Clark's synth parts recalling The Human League in "Seeing Stars", and combining with Black's po-faced croon in the manner of Ultravox and Tubeway Army for "Black Suit", a perfect pastiche of the era's blend of style and alienation. Not that Frank comes too willingly along, slipping reassuringly into his Black Francis scream at points, and bashing out dirty buzzsaw guitar riffs with alacrity on tracks such as "Lovesick", which recalls "Brown Sugar", and "Long Song", which could be by The Killers. But his gentler side is responsible for some of the album's most engaging moments, notably the beautiful pop melody of "Ermesinde" and the seductive "Come On Over to My House", an invitation that includes the promise "I'll make you buckets of tea/Put your breath inside me".
Pick of the album:'Come On Over to My House', 'Black Suit', 'Ermesinde', 'Lovesick'