Ranging fitfully between menacing and melodic, Black Francis’s Nonstoperotik generally fulfills the promise of its title, delving both overtly and suggestively into the seamier edges of the singer-songwriter’s psyche. Songs that apply the usual creepy perversity that leaks into most of Francis’s material, more about mood and tone than actual content, fare best. Explicitly ribald material, whether delivered with cheeky bombast (“When I Go Down on You”) or the barely veiled lechery of the more sweetly inclined title track feel like unnecessary pushes into boldface territory. Especially when a track like album-opener “Lake of Sin” communicates far more sleaze without saying much, leaving an aura of palatable suggestion, layering fire and brimstone references over a gauze of wailing guitars.
It’s not long before this single-minded focus eventually wears itself out. By the end of “Six Legged Man,” which pointlessly transforms its refrain into shouts of “sex legged man,” the potential for this kind of exploration has thoroughly exhausted itself. What we’re left with is a mixed bag of often-juvenile wordplay, descending hopelessly into a futile struggle for new sex metaphors. “Wheels” takes a break for a cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers’s traveling song, but its fuzzy texture and grubby delivery have a dampening effect on the ebullient original. It’s a feeling that slowly extends to the rest of the album, whose overbearing and uninspired fascination with the skeezy edges of the erotic leaves it dryly, self-consciously dissipated.