Monday, August 12, 2013
Aztec Camera - Love
Love (1987) ***
In 1987, a young, handsome, vocally talented British neo-soul singer released what was to be his biggest-ever selling album, gracing the charts with a commercially potent blend of tasteful acoustic guitar based pop and suavely crooned state-of-the-'80s R&B. But enough about George Michael. Yes, this album is the definition of the word sellout, and if you're looking for Roddy Frame the acoustic troubadour, you'll find that old spirit present on only one track (not so coincidentally, far and away the best). The various producers (hint: you know it's an attempted sell-out when there's a different production team on nearly every other track) glossed Frame's ditties into almost generic '80s mainstream pop; the concerted attack on the charts failed to break AC in the U.S., but did land punches with four U.K. hits. Thus, Frame was able to live the upwardly mobile part of his young, urban professional ambitions (isn't it funny how nobody ever uses the word yuppie anymore? I think it's because in today's economy, anyone with a decent job is nothing to sneer at.) So this isn't classic Aztec Camera, and about as "alternative" as Dave Matthews & the Hootie Blowmefish. It's still a well-crafted and listenable album with a few exceptionally bright spots (as well as some stinking low spots). Frame's pop instincts are not only intact but actually seem to serve this sort of commercial pop vein better than the singer-songwriterisms of the last LP.
Math: one great song, one excellent song, two bad songs, and five fair to fairly-good songs. And thus any grade higher or lower than three stars is completely out of the question. There is a system to what I do. Bad news first: the soul duet, "One on One," which reeks of dance-floor cheese, and "Everybody Is a Number One," cloyingly Up With People, a generically universalist uplift anthem that wriggles even more generically musically speaking. "Somewhere in My Heart," was the biggest hit, and deservedly so; it provides the genuine soulful uplift that "Everybody Is a Number One," so failed to do. But it's the closing "Killermont Street," that is the album's lone masterpiece: once again, Roddy proves that all he needs is an acoustic guitar and his angelic voice to knock you overboard with his naturally oozing talent. The rest of the songs range from smoothly sung, soulful adult contemporary to.....well, they're mostly that, and while mostly fine, not particularly interesting or quirky enough for me to find interesting things to say about them. But they're fine. If you like that sort of thing. Am I equivocating enough? I do tend to do that when it comes to three star albums.
O, but "Killermont Street"! Go listen to that one - it's a classic! And "Somewhere in My Heart" ain't too bad, neither.