Top positive review
The "difficult second album"
on 17 April 2017
Knife - the proverbial difficult second album. The success of High Land, Hard Rain led a big budget from Warner Bros., so producers John Brand and Bernie Clarke were replaced by Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, Eastbourne was replaced by New Orleans and the acoustic guitars largely replaced by electric; this resulted inAztec Camera's follow-up to their highly rated debut dividing critics and fans alike. I bought my first copy of this album just less than ten years ago, when I decided to complete my Roddy Frame album collection and it was one of the last Aztec Camera releases I owned, purely because I had been put off by some of the reviews, especially those which compared Knife with the debut album I loved so much. Unfortunately, comparisons are inevitable when an artist like Frame finds so much success with their first record, but when you stop comparing Knife with High Land, Hard Rain, that's when you can really appreciate his second offering. No, it really isn't as good as their first release and the polished production means that it seems to lose a little bit of the heart-on-his-sleeve honesty that made High Land, Hard Rain aim straight for the heart of the listener, but as a pop album with plenty of great lyrics, memorable tunes and Frame's winning delivery, Knife still has a lot to offer.
Knife's energy and positivity bursts into life on the first track, Still On Fire, which announces itself with a guitar riff similar to The Jackson Five's I Want You Back and David Ruffy giving an Oblivious-style performance on the drums. The shimmering soul-influenced pop of Just Like The USA is catchy enough, but misses a certain depth both in terms of music and lyrics to raise it above being just an average Frame album track. However, much better is Head Is Happy (Heart's Insane), a beautifully understated love song that features a winning chorus and excellent production; when, after the bridge, the piano arpeggio is chiming away and the brass section harmonising in the background, there is such an overwhelming warmth to the music, like a gentle breeze on a summer's day. Complete with a classic Roddy Frame chorus, full of melody and swelling emotions, The Back Door To Heaven is an immensely likeable love song and All I Need Is Everything, with its foot-tapping rhythmic guitars, steel drum/marimba style synths and the simple two line chorus, “I wish myself into your arms/To know that all I need is everything” is beautifully emotionally succinct.
Despite being perfectly pleasant and there being some nice instrumental performances on it, Backwards And Forwards struggles to shine, whereas the acoustic The Birth Of The True is possibly the only song on Knife that really could have comfortably been slotted onto High Land, Hard Rain; I just love the lines “I'd sack the world and make a second start/I'd sack my head until I found my heart”. The album finishes with the nine minute title track and, in all honesty, despite being very easy on the ears, it is more than a little self-indulgent and doesn't have enough ideas to fill that amount of time without boredom setting in. The bonus tracks on the edition of this album I own (the 2012 Rhino release) are largely good, especially the acoustic version of Van Halen's Jump and the live recordings taken from the Dominion Theatre in October 1984. Mattress Of Wire, Walk Out To Winter, The Bugle Sounds Again and The Birth Of The True are particular highlights from what sounds like it was a wonderful show and these bonus tracks, along with all the photographs, artwork and interesting essay by Terry Staunton, really add extra value to this single disc re-issue. The only fly in the ointment is the Simon Boswell remix of All I Need Is Everything, which contains the usual eighties excesses tagged onto these unnecessary exercises in tinkering around with something that isn't broken.
I'm going to go back and make one final comparison between Knife and High Land, Hard Rain, if I may, because I think this one actually matters. Many of Roddy's songs on his debut had a theme of bitterness, lost love and uncertain emotions, whereas Knife has all the hallmarks of being in love running through it. If the debut focussed on loss, Knife is full of love, lust and longing; even the music on Knife betrays a happier frame of mind. Who knows what kind of album Roddy may have written had his first album been ignored and his life not taken off with such an upward trajectory, but Knife is the resulting album from the life changes he experienced. I think it is, on the whole, a fine piece of work that is probably a lot easier to hear with the benefit of knowing Frame's entire catalogue up to this point and being able to have that kind of context and perspective. How I may have felt if I'd have waited to eagerly buy this in 1984 after adoring the first album so much, I can't tell you – it's entirely possible that I may have been disappointed with Knife. As it is, I think that, although it is possibly a lesser album in Roddy's repertoire, it is a more than enjoyable and worthy instalment in the Aztec Camera back catalogue.