Aztec Camera – Knife

4 out of 5

Produced by: Mark Knopfler

Label: Sire

I love High Land, Hard Rain with mass amounts of glee, but being an Aztec Camera fan – as opposed to just digging that album – means having an appreciation for Roddy Frame’s various big-stage indulgences, a la the R & B / soul of Love, or the glossy pop of Dreamland.  Amidst the swooningly awesome folk-pop masterpieces of High Land, these other genre hints existed, but it’s kinda easy to focus all on Oblivious or Boy Wonders and miss those other details…

Knife dropped pretty close after High Land, and the fans did not say yay, because their dreamy, strummy, clever-tongued troubadour brought on Mark Knopfler to produce and upped his band to include some more keys and horns and whatnot.  Some cheesier lyrics enter the fray, and there’s not a riff as directly arresting as those mentioned cuts on the debut album.  If we take a step back, though, and breathe in all the Aztec Camera we can, Knife makes perfect sense as a step forward from the prior album, and is a damned fine set of tracks, to boot.

Cheese, of course, would become quite a common lyrical anchor for Frame, but he always manages to lace said cheese with something that lets you know he’s on the ball, and not just singing eyelash-fluttering rhymes.  When more cutting lyrics peek through elsewhere, or are sneaked in midst the more whimsical stuff, it reminds you of this dude’s penchant for observation and narrative, and occasionally draws attention to darker themes that ride just ‘neath the bubbly surface.  Musically, the sheen and bop on Knife certainly puts it closer to Love, but these are also some of Frams’s catchiest tracks, excepting, for better or worse, the title track, which is a nine minute stretch in search of a hook, like some of the Dreamland stuff.  But Still On Fire?  All I Need Is Everything?  While these might get tossed on a more generalized 80s music pile than the folksters we initially associated Frame with, Roddy’s ear for an incessant rhythm is consistent between the two albums, making for 7 (out of 8) obsession-worthy singles.