TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 1 May 2017
Dreamland is the only Aztec Camera album I didn't own prior to the 2012 Rhino re-issues. I was eighteen years old when this album was released so, but I certainly wasn't aware of it at the time. I'm afraid I was too focused on the hero worship of Kurt Cobain at the time (Billy Joel too, but that doesn't make me sound quite as cool) to be aware of Roddy Frame's new album. If I'm honest, even if I'd heard tracks from this album at that age, I think it would have been lost on me as it's all a bit too mature and subtle for someone who was looking for something a bit more, well, exciting. Nearly a quarter of a century later, having owned this album for five years and, quite honestly, not having played it that much, I've very much appreciated getting to Dreamland a lot better than I previously did. I have to come clean: when I bought this as part of the re-issue series in 2012, I didn't have a particularly high opinion of this album; it sounded very “safe” and a bit ordinary compared with much of Roddy's other work. However, I think I was wrong to dismiss it without getting to know it properly and, unfortunately, one of the problems with buying so much music is that I often didn't give the albums I didn't absolutely love after the first couple of listens enough time for all of the music and lyrics to sink in. Hopefully I'm rectifying that now by giving Dreamland the time and attention it deserves.
With producer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who made his name in Japan's Yellow Magic Orchestra, on board his electronic hallmarks are all over the lush opening track, Birds, whereas the yearning standout track Safe In Sorrow has more of a late-era Lennon or eighties Bowie feel to it. Black Lucia also has a touch of the former Beatle, with the opening musical phrase of the verse sharing a similarity with Don't Let Me Down, but the soaring chorus, driven by ringing guitars and silvery keyboards, makes this a superb track. With its heartfelt lyrics and gentle, caressing music, including a tasteful violin solo, Let Your Love Decide is another gem. Spanish Horses, which was one of the singles from the album, certainly has a Catalan flavour, and features some really pleasing acoustic guitar playing. Funny, I really didn't care for that song when I first heard it, now I like it a lot, especially the playful, tumbling chorus.
Dream Sweet Dreams is a pleasant, poppy album track; a nice, easy-listening toe-tapper without ever really developing into anything special. The calm, relaxed natures of music, juxtaposed with the bittersweet lyrics of Pianos And Clocks result in a thoroughly lovely track; it's the kind of timeless song that has an almost familiar melody, but that doesn't prevent it from being a wonderful listening experience. The excellent Vertigo boasts some typically expressive, descriptive Frame lyrics and a more than decent electric guitar solo to put the icing the cake whereas Valium Summer, as dreamy and medicated as the title suggests, is, in comparison with the rest of the album, the only song on the album that disappoints and, if I'm honest, it is only the spelled-out chorus that I find a little tedious; it's still perfectly listenable and has some nice instrumental touches. The final track, Belle Of The Ball, is a lovely track but lacks a certain something that would put it in the same category as other “last song masterpieces” such as Killermont Street or Down The Dip.
One of my favourites on Dreamland, Sister Ann, is a slow-burning song that is truly gorgeous when it bursts into flame; this is the kind of song that it would be very easy to pass by if you just listened to the album once or twice, but, give it the attention it deserves and you'll be rewarded by being able to appreciate a genuinely masterful composition. It's a good example of a track that demonstrates the fact that this is a record you need to time and patience to fully explore, understand and appreciate. It is too easy to dismiss Aztec Camera's fifth long-player as a soft, comfortable, middle-of-the-road album and, while it admittedly isn't exactly the edgiest piece of work, it is rather fulfilling, especially if you are at a point in your life where you can understand where Roddy is coming from. Dreamland is very possibly a “mood” album too, where if you aren't in the frame of mind to enjoy a very laid back offering from Roddy and need something with a bit more energy, then this album is likely to just wash over you. Without wanting to resort to cliches, Dreamland is probably an ideal Sunday afternoon selection, rather than something to put on before you go out for the evening. Regardless of when you listen to it, it remains a rather lovely, underrated addition to the Aztec Camera catalogue.
My thoughts about the bonus tracks and live disc:
The only bonus track on the first disc is a song that was recorded for the NME's 40th anniversary album, a cover of Amen Corner's classic (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice, which also features Andy Fairweather-Low and, in my opinion, it is an absolutely marvellous rendition. The bonus disc mainly consists of a live show from Ronnie Scott's in London, recorded on 23rd June, 1991. It is an utterly remarkable live record of just Roddy and his acoustic guitar, running through such Aztec Camera marvels as Birth Of The True, Killermont Street, The Bugle Sounds Again, How Men Are and Good Morning Britain, as well as some songs which would later appear on Dreamland, like Spanish Horses and Sister Ann. Although I am a big admirer of Aztec Camera's studio albums, to hear these songs stripped down to their bare bones is simply spellbinding and I believe that it is the mark of a genuinely great song if it can truly shine with just one person playing an instrument, be it piano or guitar, and singing. Roddy Frame's music, if anything, grows in stature when you hear it in its purest form and this edition of Dreamland is absolutely essential for any Aztec Camera fan for the superb live disc alone, let alone the excellent parent album. The hardback booklet style, along with all the lyrics, photos, artwork and a decent write-up about the album by Terry Staunton, means that the bonus package on this particular edition makes this possibly the best of the bunch of these 2012 expanded re-releases. If it was for the studio album album alone, I'd probably be awarding this album four stars, but the amazing live disc pushes this up to a full five star review.