YES, MES amis, Love. The word gets abused, distorted, twisted hither and yon all the time, yet never goes out of style, never becomes mundane. However you define love, it’s a powerful force, and an endlessly fascinating concept.
Paul Anka sings about love. So does Bon Jovi. So does Bob Dylan, and just about everybody else. Big deal. Now young Roddy Frame, who is Aztec Camera in effect, had made a whole LP devoted exclusively to the subject. Despite the familiar contents, the 40 minutes required to explore its lush, elegant textures are well spent, I assure you.
Love refreshes, like a cool drink on a hot day, because Roddy doesn’t settle for the obvious. His songs aren’t just the usual “boy meets girl” or “you left me and now I hate you” drivel. The shrewd lad has taken a more inventive approach, showing how the ideal of love influences, or should influence, our lives. Rather than a wide-eyed ode to cuddly feelings, Love laments the way we fumble chances for happiness and celebrates those few times we rise above our pathetic everyday lives.
If this all sounds a bit dizzy, it is. And Roddy’s just the person to conduct the discourse. He’s got one of those soft, mopey voices England’s been turning out in droves throughout the ’80s, minus the annoying narcissism. In the acoustically-inclined pop context of previous Aztec Camera works, Roddy made pleasant murmurs. Here, set against superslick U.S. session players (Steve Gadd, Marcus Miller, et al), he’s a lot more compelling. Maybe it’s the way his callowness clashes with the cooler adults in the background.
Most of these highly polished melodies could have come from Steely Dan or the Doobie Brothers, but the obsessive singing and perceptive lyrics occupy centerstage. The loping lead-off track, ‘Deep & Wide & Tall’, rejoices in the comfort of that special someone, only to lose the glow with ‘How Men Are’, a somber tale of unthinking macho cruelty. Roddy seems to be bucking for an entry in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations as he sighs, “Love is the power to have/Without the premise that there’s nothing for free.” He tries again on ‘Everybody Is Number One’ with the observation “Love is a burning ring/At the bottom of our being.” The boy’s a poet and I’ll bet he knows it.
Love actually touches many bases, since the topic can, after all, be applied to just about any issue. ‘Somewhere In My Heart’, a rare rocker, looks at the chances for survival in a callous world; ‘Working In A Goldmine’ shows how easy it is to lose the way. While the gloomy strokes are a bit more vivid than the positive ones, Roddy’s not a whiner, just a realist. Careful tabulation reveals a pretty good balance between optimism and pessimism — and he does advocate happy endings throughout, which is reassuring.
Longtime devotees may sniff at the disappearance of Aztec Camera as a band, or pause at the fact that six different folks get production credits. Not being a purist myself, I don’t care. If this be product, it’s mighty persuasive. Love vividly depicts Roddy Frame walking around with his head in the clouds and makes the prospect of doing likewise seem very appealing indeed.
© Jon Young, Creem, March 1988