Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Aztec Camera - Knife

Knife (1984) ***

The dreaded rot of artistic maturity has already set in, even with Roddy Frame still a wee lad of twenty.  Almost perversely seeming to distance himself from the debut's rushful songs of innocence, these songs of experience pull Frame in two differing, but overlapping directions:  singer-songwriter troubadour under the tutelage of producer Mark Knopfler (not as Dire as you'd think, though) and the MOR yuppie soul that Roddy would soon sell out to.  Call it a transitional album, then, as musically this falls halfway between the debut (it's still mostly acoustic guitar based) and the third album, Love (considerably more produced, with chintzy atmospheric keyboards abundantly over some of the tunes - ah, the '80s).  The main problem isn't the soft-rock '80s production, however - it's that Frame seemed to have made the rookie mistake of equating 'mature' and 'thoughtful' with 'slower' and 'more self-important'.  The dreary 9 minute title track is the biggest offender, trailing on seemingly forever on ponderous atmosphere and little else, but thankfully nothing else here is nearly as dreadful - though the equally furrow-browed "Back Door to Heaven," comes close (and yes, the sex pun is just way too obvious, even for Mark Prindle).  The hit single, "All I Need is Everything," amounts to perilously anonymous '80s pop, with those keyboards washing over atmospherically - we're not in indie-rock land anymore, Toto.  We're in '80s Toto land.  And what's up with that cheesy and pointless Spanish guitar coda?  Mind you, if this review is seeming too harsh - I haven't gotten to the good tracks yet!  Perhaps the entire album would've been better released as raw acoustic demos, as the excellent "The Birth of the True," proves - that's where your true talent lies, Roddy, it's shining through loud and clear here.  The three first tracks likewise would've fit in fine on the debut:  the jumpily anthemic "Still on Fire" (should've been the first single); the loping melodicism and emotional resignation of "Just Like the USA";  and the gentle melancholy of "Head is Happy (Heart's Insane)".  Pity it all has to go pear-shaped after such a promising start.  But if you're lucky, you stumble upon an edition that contains Frame's brilliantly languid, acoustic take on Van Halen's "Jump" - genius!  And easily the greatest version of that song - Frame reveals the melodic pop brilliance hiding at the center.  It's easily enough to render an extra half star to the rating.

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