"My oldest boy, he likes his tomato sauce with pasta so sometimes I've got to make it really quickly but I don't like using jars of sauces. So the first thing you need is an iron skillet." So said Frank Black when he contributed to our Rock'n'Roll Cook Book last year; proof, if it was needed, that the Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV of 2009 is a domesticated creature.
It makes his latest joint venture, Grand Duchy - a band comprised of Black and his wife, Violet Clark - a little less surprising. It's a move that will no doubt engender nay-saying, most likely from dyed in the wool Pixie-ites, who after 20 years are still hanging onto the coattails of Tame or Monkey Goes To Heaven in the unlikely hope that history might decide to repeat itself. Well hey, it probably won't, and certainly doesn't with Grand Duchy.
Sure, there are shades of Doolittle basslines and Black's trademark sneer makes the odd cameo (opening track Come On Over To My House being a prime example), but let's dispense with nostalgia and focus on the here and now: Petits Fours is an exceptionally tight and accomplished album. But rather than a safe, family outing, we get an exciting blend of 80s synths and enjoyably uncomplicated indie-rock anthems (Fort Wayne). It's fused with a chemistry and sense of playfulness perhaps normally akin to fledgling lovers, rather than the bearers of a five-strong litter.
Crucial to the longevity of marriage and ultimately the success of Grand Duchy is Black's willingness to share the limelight: this is far from a solo record, and on more than one occasion Clark's vocals usurp those of her more illustrious paramour - mischievous, sassy and devilish. Lovesick reveals the frustration that no doubt comes with Black’s jet-set life, the abandoned Clark giggling frivolously at her husband's skittish attempts to instigate phone-sex. Throughout the album, we get glimpses into the alternative lifestyles both lead – with album highlight Fort Wayne offering an account of life onstage in Indiana by contrast.
That the first collaboration between the couple was a Cure cover (A Strange Day - for a tribute album last year) proffers a fair indication as to the stylistic quality of Petit Fours: always hooky, sometimes kooky and unashamedly pop-based. Hell, sometimes they even venture into AM-friendly territory. But ultimately, Petit Fours should appeal to Pixies diehards and indie kids alike. Black & Clark join Ike & Tina, Win & Regine, and Johnny & June in adding another string to the already tuneful bow of matrimonial musical history.4/5
Originally published here: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/article/44778-grand-duchy-petit-fours