Life at 33⅓: Life is not an easy ride

Aztec Camera, High Land, Hard Rain (Rough Trade).

Aztec Camera, High Land, Hard Rain (Rough Trade)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in May 1983.*

Roddy Frame and his Aztec Camera have mysteriously managed to climb the British  charts.  You won’t find music less fashionable in 1983.  No blasts of funk, no robotic synth.  Aztec Camera’s musical expression is some kind of whimsical folk-pop, easy on the ear, airy with an extensive use of acoustic guitars – and a discreet addition of organ/piano, bass, drums and electric guitar.  The song structure is quite old-fashioned: Verse-chorus-verse-chorus, the arrangements usually tighteing up as the songs reach their climax.

The music possesses an indisputable naive charm, although the individual songs lack melodic identity.  You’ll have to listen to the album quite a few times before you are able to distinguish the songs apart.  The record has a strong integrated sound, but is weak on individual factors, so to speak.  But it’s selling like hotcakes.  Partially due to the lyrics as they  play a prominent role.

Frame’s lyrics are ambitious, and the pictures they paint are loaded with strange images and esoteric symbolism, some of it beautiful, some of it plain weird – but always fascinating.  And behind the picturesque stanzas hides a troubled heart – striving for freedom, redemption and love.

I love the disillusioned revolution romanticist in “Release”: “You’d better summon your soul because we’re leaving this place / with a red, red flag for a souvenir.”  And the precise introduction to a distorted relationship that opens “ We Could Send Letters “:”You said you’re free, for me that says it all / You’re free to push me and I’m free to fall.”

Frame never becomes particualry introverted, his lyrics are accessible and relevant to anybody who has found that life is not an easy ride.  He speaks for a blank generation marked by a helpless emptiness and anger, and which carries a spiritual thirst in its heart.  He is not the angry mouthpiece of these youngsters (check out “Walk Out To Winter”), his voice is gentle, but his visions are those of heartbreaking despair.  The music alone might not add up to much, but combined with that voice and those words, it transformes into genuine greatness.

But is it commercial enough?  The British charts say YES!

Released: April 1983
Produced by: John Brand, Bernie Clarke
(All songs written by Roddy Frame)
Contents: Oblivious/The Boy Wonders/Walk Out to Winter/The Bugle Sounds Again/We Could Send Letters/Pillar to Post/Release/Lost Outside the Tunnel/Back on Board/Down the Dip
Roddy Frame – vocals, guitar, harmonica
Bernie Clark – piano, organ
Campbell Owens – bass
Dave Ruffy – drums, percussion