AZTEC CAMERA: LOVE (1987)
1) Deep & Wide & Tall; 2) How Men Are; 3) Everybody Is A Number One; 4) More Than A Law; 5) Somewhere In My Heart; 6) Working In A Goldmine; 7) One And One; 8) Paradise; 9) Killermont Street.
One thing that is hard to deny about Roddy Frame: the guy definitely had no big love for standing in the same spot long enough to slip into formula. High Land was a fusion of classic pop with New Wave attitudes, and it worked. Knife was a fusion of classic «singer-songwriterism» with Eighties-type Knopflerisms, and it didn't work. And now, three years later, comes Love, a fusion of dance-pop with adult contemporary. Predictions, anyone?..
Predictions can be wrong, though. While, upon first listen, this sounded awful, subsequent immersion showed that the «sellout» actually helped Roddy with his creative juices. And, technically speaking, this was a major sellout: no less than six different producers, most of them coming from mainstream markets, worked on the project, which also featured a completely different session band, with a host of musicians hired specially for the sessions and then going their separate ways again. The songs, however, were still written exclusively by Roddy: this is one area where the corporate machine was strictly forbidden to enter.
Because of its dependence on generic dance rhythms and fairly bland musical arrangements, Love generally tends to get flack from fans. But remember the contrast between High Land and Knife and realize that, whatever the side effects, Roddy generally works better when the songs are upbeat and rhythmically stimulating; drag him down into the world of slow tempos and heavy moods and he will quickly lose his focus and forget about everything but the lyrics.
Even assuming that most of these songs are bad (which they are not), Knife certainly did not have anything of the caliber of ʽSomewhere In My Heartʼ, a certified Aztec Camera classic that justifiedly hit #3 on the UK charts, going much higher than the far more «contemporarily-arranged» singles from Love, because sometimes people actually go for intensity of delivery instead of the production trinkets — and Roddy's "somewhere in my heart there is a star that shines for you..." is pretty intense. The arrangement, with its simple synth patterns and sax blasts, is nothing special, but it never detracts from the hooks. It's a simple, but intelligent, solid, powerful love song that should be able to proudly walk into anybody's pop collection.
As for the rest of this stuff, well, it depends on where one draws the line between catchiness and tastelessness. For instance, ʽEverybody Is A Number Oneʼ and ʽOne And Oneʼ certainly have infectious choruses, but whether these are benevolent or malicious infections is hard to determine. Both songs try so doggone hard to get you «on your feet» with their artificial party atmosphere that it quickly becomes irritating — particularly on ʽOne And Oneʼ, with its call-and-response vocals. I do like the arrangement on ʽEverybody...ʼ, with its funky guitars, horns, and «synth-vibraphones» meshing quite colorfully, but it still might be a bit too overtly «joyful» — on the other hand, it seems as if Roddy were consciously going for a power-to-the-people-ish Lennon vibe on this number, sacrificing a bit of good taste to keep the blood boiling, and I respect that.
It is the slower-moving ballads on which «Roddy the Aztec» seems to be really losing his grip, slipping into adult contemporary clichés, or, at least, writing melodies that are hard to distinguish from such clichés. Stuff like ʽHow Men Areʼ and ʽParadiseʼ tries to create a brand of Roddy-soul that requires very close inspection to distinguish it from contemporary R'n'B-ism. There are some acoustic guitars to keep the live-sound lovers happy, but overall, the synthesizers are overbearing, the hooks are mediocre, and the ideas behind the songs do not warrant the presence of an individual singer-songwriter. If there is something that makes Roddy Frame different from George Michael — and there must be! — it is not immediately obvious on these songs.
Even so, it does not prevent him from ending the album on a very high note — ʽKillermont Streetʼ, along with ʽSomewhere In My Heartʼ, is the only other reason to own and cherish Love. Ironically, it is also slow and draggy; but the acoustic guitars are uncluttered by cheesy synth overdubs, and it succeeds very well where ʽKnifeʼ failed — by being a lot shorter, a little faster, a tad catchier, with a nice vocal melody resolution, and seriously more optimistic.
These two songs are «classic Aztec Camera», the perfect embodiment of Roddy's «well-tempered optimism» that ties together suffering and hope through awesome vocal work where you don't even need to learn the lyrics to get the message. No matter how weak or atmospherically corrupted the rest of the tunes are, these two are the anchors that manage to color the whole experience, and, since my brain loves them both and refuses to get irritated by the rest of this stuff, altogether, Love demands a modest thumbs up. Which is good, because where would we be if we all started giving love our thumbs down? Aww.