Ex-Aztec Camera songwriter and frontman Roddy Frame’s fourth solo album, “Seven Dials” is perhaps as perfect an album any long-term fan could expect from his quietly brilliant musical mind. Having just turned fifty, there is no less of a crisp melodic sheen to his voice than there was thirty years ago and the compositions, well they’re the kind of wistful, descriptive, achingly gorgeous songs that Frame has produced over the years and there’s a whole album jammed full of them. By the feel of this album, last year’s 30th anniversary celebrations of Aztec Camera’s fine début, “High Land, Hard Rain” have acted as a catalyst for an album that sounds as wonderfully fresh, optimistic and youthful as his music did three decades ago. Released on co-founder Edwyn Collins’ Honest Joe’s AED Records and recorded in Collins’ West Heath Yard studio, co-producer and engineer Sebastian Lewsley has made these songs sound as magnificent as they deserve to sound.
Straight away after you press play, there is instant gratification with what can only be described as a classic Roddy Frame big, beautiful ballad in “White Pony”. The first time I heard it, I admit that my eyes misted over and a East Kilbride-sized lump formed in my throat; it’s the beginning of something very special. “Postcard” sees Frame in cutting loose with a sunny, shimmering rock song that evokes California, both lyrically and musically, bringing to mind some of the seventies greats, such as Fleetwood Mac and, in one part, The Eagles. There’s also a brief, self-effacing Spanish guitar solo aping his eighties style just before the false ending, demonstrating that his sense of humour and fun are well and truly in attendance here. “Into The Sun” is a heart-warming return to the kind of mid-tempo, jangly, melodic, bittersweet ballad that won my heart a few decades ago; the rather sorrowful, heartbroken lyrics providing the delicious counterpoint to the uplifting music.
Part of the reason this album works so beautifully is the pleasing mix of styles; “Seven Dials” has real character to it and takes you on a journey with lots of different textures and emotions. “Rear View Mirror” with its subtle Latin flavour, part-bossa nova, part-jazz, may sound a little ordinary at first, but repeated listens reveal truly lovely lyrics and little percussive flourishes that make the song anything but ordinary. The understated introduction of “In Orbit”, with Roddy’s voice ringing out over electric piano and brushed snare gives way to cascading guitar arpeggios and Frame lets his voice just soar over the sublime music until it builds to a fulfilling, emotional climax; it’s exhilarating stuff. The ridiculously catchy “Forty Days Of Rain” is a brilliant slice of folk-rock with a chorus hook that makes me overlook its religious overtones. The sublime “English Garden” burns slowly but deeply with longing and regret and the honest melancholy is almost painful to listen to, but it sure is a thing of beauty. There is an unexpected, explosive, rather dramatic postscript to the song which ends the piece on a philosophical, accepting note; it adds a touch of further genius to the song.
There is a touch of classic Crowded House on the excellent “On The Waves”, but perhaps the most breathtaking song on the album is “The Other Side” which sees Roddy writing one of the greatest songs of his career so far; yes, it’s up there with the very best of his work and the guitar solo melts me inside like butter over a slow heat. What a song. The album finishes with a simple but delicately beautiful picked guitar folk-ballad “From A Train” and it’s yet another heartfelt, honest composition that lesser musicians can only dream of writing and performing the way Frame does. “Seven Dials” is just over thirty-seven minutes of sonic bliss with one magnificent song after another. There have been several high points in Roddy Frame’s career, such as the stellar “Surf”, but this album reaches the same spine-tingling peaks and is such a work of astonishing quality that it’s difficult to imagine that there will be an album better than this one this year. For Frame fans, myself included, this album is a dream fulfilled. For the uninitiated – if you have a penchant for singer-songwriter albums with plenty of guitars, harmonies, melodies and heartbreak, you may have just found something very special indeed. “Seven Dials” really is the loveliest thing… what a jewel.
Andy Sweeney, 10th May, 2014.