Top positive review
The closest thing to heaven is to rock and roll
on 21 April 2017
Love, Roddy Frame's third album under the Aztec Camera moniker, was his most shamelessly pop album to date. With a multitude of producers, some of whom had enjoyed massive success with other artists, this album feels like it was a concerted attempt to hit the big time after the mixed reaction to second album, Knife. It's the kind of production that means you can put the album on and ask a listener unfamiliar with the music to name when it was released and they'll probably get it right, within a year or two. This is Frame's big, glossy, shiny pop record and, to a certain extent, it worked. The magnificent Somewhere In My Heart was Aztec Camera's first top ten hit and it still remains, to this day, their biggest selling album. You don't, however, find many Frame fans who will name this as their favourite albums; quite the opposite, in fact, many talk in terms of disappointment in the kind of direction he took his music, especially those who champion High Land, Hard Rain. My opinion of Love is mixed; there are quite a few songs on the album I really love, but there are also moments that, for me, don't have the honest, heartfelt quality that attracts me to Roddy's music. Add to that the dated eighties feel and it's a bit of a mixed bag, but, my word, the high points really are magnificent, so I tend to regard Love warmly and will often reach for it if I fancy listening to a bit of Aztec Camera.
I often think of album opener Deep And Wide And Tall as an excellent track struggling to break free of over complicated Russ Titelman production, but it is a lovely, romantic piece (the lyric “She's love's ambassadress” always makes me smile) and starts the record on a really positive note. How Men Are boasts a remarkable, sensitive lyric and a pretty melody, but it also has background music that wouldn't be out of place on a Whitney Houston number; thankfully there is a grounded, soulful Frame guitar solo to bring it down to earth a little. The first track to grate on me is Everybody Is A Number One, with the fake synth brass, the quasi-Caribbean drums and the dialled-in performances; it doesn't actually sound as if Roddy himself believes in this track. More Than A Law, thankfully, is much better, with the more sparse production giving the vocals space to breathe and the lyrics in the chorus (“We make love in the face of it all/feel the freedom and the purity”) really tugging the heart strings too.
The biggest selling single of Roddy Frame's career, Somewhere In My Heart, was justifiably successful; for me, it's one of the greatest pop songs ever written, a helping of pure genius with the combination of almost maddeningly catchy music and edgy, yet beautifully romantic lyrics. Most really good songs will have at least one killer line, but Somewhere In My Heart was a whole handful of them. “Ambition and love wearing boxing gloves/and singing hearts and flowers”, “A star above the city in the northern chill/A baby being born to the overkill” and, of course, “Somewhere in my heart/There is a star that shines for you/Silver splits the blue/Love will see you through”. How gorgeous is that? Those four lines often make my eyes mist over. Also, just before Frame's glorious, euphoric electric guitar solo he delivers the fantastic lines, “The one thing that's understood/Is that you can't buy time/But you can sell your soul/And the closest thing to heaven is to rock and roll”; it's about as close to blissful pop perfection as any songwriter has reached.
Working In A Goldmine, a classic soul-inspired track, has the unenvied task of following Somewhere In My Heart, but it is a pleasant, easy-on-the-ears composition that offers something completely different to that epic pop number and, therefore, works very well. One And One, sadly, is easily the weakest song on the whole album. It is a very ordinary composition that has been given a hideous arrangement and extremely dated pop production with some effects that sound positively jarring listening to them today. Paradise is merely listenable and, after One And One, it really sounds as if the quality on Love has faded towards the end. Fortunately, it is then we get one of the true gems on the record, the sensational Killermont Street. Like the “Down The Dip” of the album, Roddy's ode to his home city is wonderfully pure, honest and genuine; it's a tear-inducing indictment to the de-industrialisation of Glasgow (“As the ships and the steel/slip away to the cry of 'compete'”) and the effects on its inhabitants (“Whisky words tumble down in the street/With the pain that they cure”) and some frank self-realisation (“And with collar upturned/I made it south to see/That the love I had spurned/Was just the hate in me”). Killermont Street is, in my opinion, amongst the very best songs Roddy Frame has ever written.
Summing up Love is quite difficult. There are some very good songs indeed, there are a couple of utterly magnificent pieces and, yet, there are at least two songs which really aren't that great at all. Much of it is marred by over-production and yet, in the case of Somewhere In My Heart, the shimmering production is part of what makes the song so great. It's an album full of contradictions, but I can't help but finish listening to it and, especially as it ends with Killermont Street, be given the overall impression that I've just listened to a really terrific album, despite the flaws and handful of uninspiring tracks. No, it's not a masterpiece, but it does contain two of the best songs you will ever probably hear in your life and quite a few others that are unmistakeably excellent Roddy Frame compositions. All-in-all, I'm able to forgive Love for its flaws and, although it will never be my favourite Aztec Camera album, it's still one I will speak about in very warm terms, despite its imperfections.
Thoughts about the bonus disc:
The edition of this album I own is the two disc 2012 Rhino re-issue, which comes in a hardback sleeve, has a glossy booklet, featuring artwork, photos, full lyrics and a very enjoyable essay about the album by Terry Staunton. The second disc contains ten bonus tracks, five of which are different mixes or remixes of album tracks (Deep And Wide And Tall, Somewhere In My Heart, Everybody Is A Number One and Working In A Goldmine), plus three live tracks (Killermont Street, Pillar To Post and I Threw It All Away) and two 'B'-sides (Bad Education and The Red Flag). Bad Education is an enjoyable, interesting track which doesn't suffer from the over-production that is a characteristic of the main album and Red Flag is a rather moving, yet sparse, piano-driven version of the traditional socialist song. The live rendition of Killermont Street is truly lovely and the version of Pillar To Post, both recorded in Los Angeles on December 8th, 1987, is effortlessly enjoyable. The remixes are very difficult to like, unfortunately, especially the horrible regurgitation of Somewhere In My Heart that is the 12” mix. The live version of Bob Dylan's I Threw It All Away, recorded in Bristol in 1988, is perfectly nice, but it's a rather straight guitar and voice interpretation of it, so isn't anything particularly special. To surmise, the bonus disc is another mixed offering that may be very interesting to completists, but isn't something that even the most ardent Aztec Camera fan would want to play that often.