It's getting on for 20 years now since Roddy Frame burst onto the scene with High Land, Hard Rain, a refreshing blend of poetry set to a jazzy latino-folksy soundtrack, full of angry young man nous and laden with punk attitude. The album (which includes Oblivious, Pillar to Post, Walk Out to Winter and We Could Send Letters) thrust Frame into that unenviable group of artists who would be destined to never repeat the brilliance of their explosive debut. But that does not detract from the fact that Frame went on to deliver a catalogue of subtle, consumately brilliant music. This 'best of' collection reflects a changing style and gradual maturing: from the early angst, through the most perfectly constructed song-writing and production of 1987's 'Love', and into the 90s with 'Spanish Horses' (an homage to Barcelona and 'Guadi's soft confusion'). My only criticism would be that to fully reflect the progression of Roddy's musical style, the playlist should include at least another dozen songs, and a whole lot more from the excellent jazz-cool and Sakamoto-inspired Frestonia.
I am in the midst of a mid life "nostalgia crisis" and I am re visiting many of the bands,their hits and albums that were a part of my youth. I had not listened to Aztec Camera in a very long time (excepting those stalwarts of the 80s compilation album, "Somewhere In My Heart" and "Oblivious")but I have found this "best of" a great re introduction to tracks I had not (to repeat myself) heard in donkeys years. The aforementioned tracks open the album and are evident quality but whether it's "Good Morning Britain" or "Walk Out To Winter", "How Men Are" or "Spanish Horses" you really, really can't go wrong. The price, considering the quality, is a bit of a steal really. So, lovely for the nostalgia, a surprise in that I had not remembered sooner quite how good they could be, and all in all, a joy to listen to.
Don't get me wrong, I think Aztec Camera (and also Roddy Frame's solo work) are wonderful. After hearing John Peel playing 'Pillar to Post' back in 1982 (I think) I bought anything of theirs I could find. High Land Hard Rain definitely ranks among the very greatest debut albums and few would deny that Roddy Frame never bettered it (personally, I blame Mark Knoppfler for his smothering production on the second album, 'Knife') - indeed, I would argue that High Land Hard Rain is much more deserving of the title "The Best of Aztec Camera" than this assortment is. This collection has one or two too many tracks from 'Love' , only a couple from 'Stray', just one from 'Dreamland' and nothing at all (!) from the underrated 'Frestonia'. Ideally, a new 'best of' would now include many tracks from Roddy Frame's excellent 'Surf' album. However, track selection is not my real gripe here. What really chokes me is the version of Van Halen's 'Jump': I saw Aztec Camera live in London in 83/84 and Roddy finished with his totally over-the-top guitar-god version of Jump which ripped the proverbial out of the original. They had the good sense to record a similar version for the b-side of the 'All I need is everything' 12" single. Although I already owned all their other CDs I rushed to buy this album purely because I saw that it contained 'Jump'. I cannot exaggerate my disgust at finding that they have faded out the last half of the track... THE BEST BIT!!! Fortunately, I have since been able to source the glorious full version, but I still cannot bear to play this CD. My advice: Buy Hard Land Hard Rain (and Surf). Borrow Frestonia, Dreamland, Stray, Love, North Star and (if you must) Knife to see which suits you. Then steal (or obtain by any method possible) the FULL version of Jump.
Overall, I was pleased with this disc; all the hits are here, and all the classic tracks. However, I was highly disappointed that they opted to use the album version of "All I Need Is Everything," as opposed to the single mix. The album version goes on forever and doesn't know how to end. Dig up a copy of the 45 (if you can) to hear a great example of classic 80's pop.
Essentially the brainchild of Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Frame, Aztec Camera produced a series of cultured pop albums during the 1980s and 1990s. The emphasis on this compilation album is on the earlier material; highly-acclaimed debut 'High Land, Hard Rain (1983) yields several supremely catchy songs such as 'Oblivious' and 'Walk Out To Winter' whilst 'Love' (1987) includes the likes of 'Somewhere In My Heart', 'Working In A Goldmine' and the lovely 'How Men Are'. Aficionados of Aztec will be somewhat disappointed at how well the 1990s are served here but the pacey 'Good Morning Britain' (a collaboration with Mick Jones from The Clash) and the stylish 'Spanish Horses' provide good examples of mid-career Aztec output. As other reviewers have suggested, the band's debut album is the best place to re-connect with one of Britain's most interesting and influential bands of their era.