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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Frank Black's Unique Style Fades Out

May 02, 1996|MIKE BOEHM

Short on hair, long on alienation, preferring a harsh bark to a sweet croon, Frank Black seems to fit the basic alternative-rock mold.

What makes Black different are his yearning to break free from the immense gravitational pull of the ordinary and his recognition that it isn't so easy.

It's a poignant realization, and by mining frequently manic rock for touching effect in his three solo albums, the former Pixies leader has achieved something out of the ordinary in an increasingly ordinary genre.

But Black seemed to be running up against the limits of his form Tuesday at the half-full Glass House in Pomona. His 70-minute set primarily registered distance and detachment, not the yearning for transformation that has marked his recorded and onstage best.

There were highlights, such as "Headache," a terrific barreling pop song, executed with garage-rock verve and sing-along gusto by Black and his three-man band.

But Black's overreliance on theatrical yells and gruff, Howlin' Wolf mannerisms, at the expense of his more melodically grabbing stuff, was a drawback. It's tough luck that Black's cult isn't commensurate with his contribution, but that's no excuse to grow sour or slack off in fighting the pull of the ordinary.

Black's protege Jonny Polonsky proved in his opening set that the basics still work. His catchy tunes, spirited garage-rock approach and lyrics about the rapture of love and the pain of rejection and loneliness were a winning combination.

* Frank Black and Jonny Polonsky play tonight and Friday at the Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 8 p.m. Sold out. (310) 276-6168. Also Saturday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, 8 p.m. $15. (714) 496-8927.

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