Aztec Camera – Love

4 out of 5

Label: Sire

Produced by: David Frank, Michael Jonzun, Rob Mounsey, Roddy Frame, Russ Titelman, Tommy Lipuma

I get it.  Your brilliant folksy troubadour suddenly had back-up singers, a ton of producers, and 80s sheen.  At the time, you were hearing this new wave pop stuff, and it’s not what you came to Aztec Camera for.  So I get why Love was kinda sorta maligned at the time, post High Land, Hard Rain.  But… (a collective eye roll in preparation for some chump telling you you’re wrong) …I feel like this stuff was already there in High Land, and especially on Knife.  One of Love’s great singles – of many – Somewhere In My Heart, is, I’d say, is tonally echoed on followup (and generally praised) Stray’s poppy Good Morning Britain, and the whole r&b tag that seemed to be a desultory claim on this disc is exactly what was nodded at approvingly on Frame’s first solo outing…

Oblivious was my first Aztec track, but Frestonia – a rather indulgent disc that I adore – was my first album; perhaps that’s why I was but more inured to Love’s versions of indulgence and had no problem getting into it.  It’s dang jam-packed with fantastic songs, if admittedly a bit lacking in the Frame lyrical cleverness.  If you view it as an artist wrapping his songwriting abilities around and wending them through a particular style and period – something I feel was repeated on Dreamland – perhaps the 80s bop and synthed-up sound and gospel-y backups won’t offend as much.  Because, to me, that’s what’s always separated Roddy from the bunch: not his strummy folk guitar, but his amazingly keen sense of song.  What might be cheesy ballads in another’s hands are elevated by his ability to add just the right vocal inflection or riff tweak; to dot the lyrics with suddenly thoughtful awareness; to offer an experience and not just singles.

And when Love fully commits to its singalong 80sness – Everybody Is A Number One, One and One – yeah, its era-resplendent, but goddamn is it also catchy.  Elsewhere, the produced-to-the-nines goodness makes that grooving bass and the harmonies stick perfectly; keys might be replacing guitar solos, but it’s still clearly Frame’s songwriting.  A couple of non-starters that don’t quite commit to the “new” sound or streamline the old (More Than a Law; Working In a Goldmine) perhaps prevent the album from being end-to-end memorable, but the concluding Killermont Street – something that could have come off of either of those two previous discs – should’ve clued listeners in, at the time, that Roddy was still wonderfully in control of his abilities.