Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Roddy Frame: Pop Genius

In an era filled with androgynous New Romantic poseurs wearing frilly shirts, schlocky hair-metal purveyors and cringeworthy smooth-jazz suits, Roddy Frame stood out like the proverbial breath of fresh air. Armed with nothing more than a seemingly inexhaustible compendium of instantly memorable melodies and his trusty Rickenbacker, Frame (initially with his pop combo Aztec Camera, and then going it alone from the mid-1990s onwards) carved out a unique niche of his own in an otherwise trite industry.

Throughout a two-decade-plus career, Frame has run through a gamut of styles, but has always remembered to maintain his songwriting acumen and his singular sense of artistry. Here are some highlights of this pop genius's repertoire:

OBLIVIOUS (High Land Hard Rain, 1983)
A wryly resounding pop blast of cheery pessimism, "Oblivious" was the single that first put Frame's name on the map, and made hims the hero for amateur bedsit singer-songwriters everywhere. Powered by a series of deft acoustic-guitar chords, with a breathless one-minute solo thrown in for good measure, this pop classic sounds as fresh and potent as ever, even after more than two decades since its initial release.

Some longtime fans might doubt the merits of this glossy, Mark Knopfler-produced number, but the new surroundings do provide Frame's melodies with a newfound sense of sophistication. The synth-heavy arrangement might seem incongruous with the song's basic framework at first, but none of Frame's previous efforts has come close to being this groove-oriented.

Frame goes the Philly soul route with this devastatingly radio-friendly tune, which remains his most recognisable hit. Bold, brash horn charts, steady drum work, slashing guitar riffs and an upfront Frame vocal equals an instant pop classic.

THE CRYING SCENE (Stray, 1990)
An insouciant Northern soul workout that incorporates a requisite gritty element, this wonderful approximation of mid-period Jam is a reasurring indicator of Frame's increasing artistic maturity.

BIRDS (Dreamland, 1993)
Having stalwart synth-pop pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto to produce Frame is a stroke of genius, as proven on this luminous, summery gem. Sakamoto couches Frame's aching unrequited-love tale in a widescreen, expansive instrumental panorama that adds a much-needed sense of musical drama to the proceedings.

RAINY SEASON (Frestonia, 1995)
A bittersweet rumination that finds Frame in archetypal reflective lyrical mode, "Rainy Season" has an initial deceptively simple pop vibe that eventually blossoms into a Spector-ish Wall-of-Sound extravaganza.

SISTER SHADOW (The North Star, 1998)
Almost an update of Frame's nascent, early-period sensibilities, this marvellously pure pop-rocker has a relentless drive that belies a desperately yearning unrequited-love lyric.

SURF (Surf, 2002)
Containing arguably the most candid set of songwords in any Frame song, this crystalline title track to Frame's all-acoustic 2002 showcase is a knowing tribute of sorts to the late, lamented Nick Drake. Oh, and it's about unrequited love, too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great Blog. I live in Boston USA and began listening to Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera) when I was still in High the early/mid 80's. I would still contend that HLHR is one of the finest albums ever cut. But I would add that while Oblivious is certainly a great song, the rest are better by far. Orchid Girl is easily my favorite on the album. Much agreement on Rainy Season from absolute master work.

8:33 AM  

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