Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Aztec Camera - Stray

Stray (1990) ***

It's time we faced the depressing fact that nothing Roddy Frame is ever going to release again will live up to the promise of High Land, Hard Rain.  You could excuse the second album as a well-intentioned misstep, and the third album as a sellout, but by the fourth time around, Roddy's an old pro, and this is pure product.  The diversity is both a blessing and a curse:  the album never falls into a predictable rut, but the 'try all the tricks in Frame's bag' approach means that the tracks live or die solely by the strength of the songs themselves.  Any sonically identifiable Aztec Camera sound has long since flown into the bush, leaving Frame merely one more talented singer/songwriter with a commitment to diversity - and little else.  There's nothing special about this music in either the sound or songwriting, and therefore has no other reason to exist beyond being a solid collection of mostly good to decent pop/rock songs.  One minute he's ominously introducing the album with a ballad that straddles the perilous line between prettily soft and snoozily New-Agey (title track); then he's delivering well-crafted surging power-pop ("The Crying Scene"); then he's channeling Combat Rock-era Clash ("Get Out of London"); then he's crooning blue-eyed torch music for the Holiday Inn; then he's dueting with the real Mick Jones of the Clash on the album's lowlight, the annoying faux-rap "Good Morning Britain" (ironically the album's biggest hit).  And that's just the first side.  On the flip, he's less convincing as a rocker ("How It Is") than as an Al Green acolyte ("The Gentle Kind").  The nearly seven minute "Notting Hill Blues," comes off like Dire Straits noodling off in the cocktrail lounge, alternately lovely and dead boring, but it does boast Frame's most soulful vocal on the LP.  The closer "Song for a Friend," which features my favorite side of Roddy - just him and guitar -  is pretty, soulful, tasteful, but insubstantial; if it's an attempt to close the album on as glorious a note as "Killermont Street," did on Love, it pales in comparison.  But it's nice, and it's short, which is a relief after the lengthy "Notting Hill Blues."  There, I've given a brief rundown of all 9 songs, and so there is no need for further explication, or reason for me to give this album another thought or listen now that I'm finished reviewing it.

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