I've followed Fred Frith's career for some time, now. A highlight was seeing him do a table-top "solo guitar" performance which climaxed with him kicking the table over, the contents of which scattered at my feet. I stooped to pick them up and Fred hurredly came over, "no, no, I'll get it". He was a quiet and intense man who kept to the shadows the rest of the night. English reserve, I suppose.
I've always held his avant garde works in the highest of regards, but have secretly harboured a desire for him to tread more palatable waters. Enter "Prints", a vocal-oriented release, which just may be his finest "commercial" work since "Gravity". That is to say that there is plenty of musical styles and genres to chomp on here.
From the techno-thrust of "Reduce Me" to the blues-y heavy metal stylings of "Stones" (air-guitar, anyone?), Fred runs the usual Frith-gamut, but with tons of wit, spunk and verve. There is even a French chanson, "Ballad of Melody Nelson", which Fred, always the notable French speaker, pulls off with unusual aplomb. And speaking of vocals, I find Fred's voice becoming more pronounced and personal as the years progress. He just may be a singer, after all.
Towards the end of the CD, darkness creeps in. There is a harrowing one-two punch of "True Love" and "I Want it to Be Over", in which Fred, after having a terrible row with his live-in, can only declare "I want it to be over". Add to that, healthy doses of Fred's giddy violin playing. Like I said, it's a delectable hodge-podge which oftentimes seems surreal, but that is the point.
I suspect Fred will go back to his avant-ways for a while now. Appreciators of Fred's more accessible, yet boldly unique efforts, will definitely want to cherish this one.