It was back in 2008 when Black Francis advised that an unexpected soundtrack album was on the cards. It would be a first time that the Pixies frontman had stepped into the world of movie soundtracks. Of course the Pixies music has been used multiple times in all manner of mediums from TV shows like City on a Hill and Black Mirror to films like Godzilla: King of Monsters to Fight Club so you will find film and TV producers cannot get enough of the unique sound of the Pixies. This project however was to be something completely different.
The San Francisco International Film Festival 2008 saw the performance of The Golem for the first time as Black Francis performed his soundtrack to the 1920’s silent film The Golem: How He Came into the World. For those of an inquisitive nature the film was a German silent horror directed by Paul Wegener and Carl Boese and was regarded as a leading example of early German Expressionism. The film was based on Austrian author Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 novel The Golem, about an anthropomorphic creature from Jewish folklore made from clay, or sometimes mud.
Following the live performance, he enlisted a group of top quality musicians including Eric Feldman to go into the studio and record an album of the soundtrack. This is the album that I am reviewing, released on vinyl for the first time. This version is the “rock” version of the soundtrack for want of a better word and more in line with his solo output and work with the Pixies.
The album opens with a short guitar jangle reminiscent of a Sergio Leone Western before kicking into gear with the stunning free flowing jazz funk strut of “Makanujo”, an album highlight straight off the bat.
As with Francis’ other work there is more than one arrow that he fires from his musical bow and the deep-seated melancholic beauty of “The Flower Song” or “(Oh How I Wish I Could) Stay” are fine examples of a composer at his subtle best. Whilst “Astaroth” has a playful quality and youthful exuberance that belies a dark lyrical theme even though it fades out with a rambling incoherent style that would make Captain Beefheart proud.
Other tracks that immediately strike the ears are the americana stylings of “The Maharal” and the easy rolling vibe of “Stars”. At the album’s core is the stunningly dark “The Obedient Servant”, a mid-tempo ballad that tells the tale of a twisted master-and-servant relationship between the golem and his master. Lyrics like “Hurt he who hurts you – I will be fervent – Don’t cry, it’s they who die” sum up the fated relationship.
The majority of the tracks feel like the could just be on another one of Francis’ superb back catalogue however there are moments that feel like they belong in a cinematic and musical universe. For example, “Meet Me at the Ghetto Gates” is made for something greater as is the mini rock opera of “Miriam and Florian”, both tracks are beyond the creation of mere mortals and should be lauded as such.
There is no requirement to have seen the 1920 original movie to understand or feel the full weight of emotions and driving narratives that run through the 18 tracks. That said, the film is a very decent watch and worth checking out if you have a spare 80 minutes or so.
When the last acoustic notes of “The Maharal (Reprise)” play out you are left with a rare sense of awe and appreciation for an artist that, although has been more than moderately successful, is still not recognised as much as he should be for his work outside of the Pixies because he truly does create some wonder works of art………and The Golem is one.
Donnie’s Rating: 10/10
The Golem is out on 28th January 2022 and available through Demon Records.
Once again thanks go to Matt at Savage Gringo for the vinyl. Get the album here https://smarturl.it/BlackFrancisVinyl