January 21, 2003

Roddy Frame 'surf"

A good song only requires a singer. There's really no need for further additives; anything less than the basics could, in fact, drown simple beauty. Of course, playing solo acoustic is a vulnerable thing to do; you'd better be good at what you do when you perform like that. You have to be excellent, because if you're not, then you can be terribly, terribly boring. To record an album of solo acoustic songs is certainly ambitious, as you're saying to the world, "my lyrics are excellent, and my voice is the only thing you need to hear."

Roddy Frame's certainly not one who's slack when it comes to making quality music. Best known for his sleeper-hit band Aztec Camera, Frame wrote some great pop songs, and in the process he set the standard for both Britpop and indiepop. Surf is Frame's second solo album, and it's his first acoustic album. Why did he wait?
Frame has struck musical gold with Surf, his singing, so warm and inviting, is as lush as any of his best Aztec Camera moments. The only other recent record I've heard that's as lush and warm and vulnerable and yet so solo would be Lambchop's Is a Woman, and it's a veritable orchestra working hard to make it sound that way!

It's rare, indeed, for a record like this that makes you not notice its limited nature. Do you really pay attention to the fact that Frame is all alone? I certainly don't. What makes Surf even beter, though, is that it never onces sounds like either country or folk. Frame's a pop man, and even in this limited form, ALL of these songs sound like they should be on pop radio. Indeed, songs like "Tough" and "High Class Music" could have easily passed as strong B-Side acoustic demo versions of grand, full-band arrangements.

On Surf's cover and in the booklet are scenes of a big city skyline in the evening; lights are shining and buildings look grand against the grey night sky. It's actually a rather simple photograph, yet it fits Surf's mood. I'd like to think that somewhere in this night, in some quiet bar or club, Frame is on stage, sitting on a stool, singing these simple, beautiful songs. Surf is a rare record of quiet, introsepctive beauty, and Frame quietly has made the best record of his career.

--Joseph Kyle

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