Some artists are meticulous. Their albums often sound free and easy but that belies the hard work that has gone into them. Today’s featured acts are those kind of inspired craftmen, carving pretty pretty tunes out of the basic raw material of the popular song.
Nick Frater is serious about old stuff. His music is replete with references to musical styles from the 1970s, lovingly taped on vintage recording equipment from the era. But his recent long-player Aerodrome Motel doesn’t so much harken back to yesteryear as remodel those familiar sounds for a new age. I mean, sure, I could say that “The Pleasure is Mine” flows like a Squeeze Cool for Cats era character sketch. But it doesn’t just conjure the glory of Deptford’s favourite sons. These songs stand on their own. Take “Love Heist,” a killer bit of buoyant pop songwriting that I would suggest is merely elevated by some Supertramp-worthy keyboards fills. Or I could say I hear a bit of Jellyfish in “Stuck in My Ways” or 10cc in “Aerodrome Motel” or Fountains of Wayne in “American Expressways.” But that’s just a rough way of saying ‘if you like those acts, you’ll love this’. Lining up the should-be hit singles, I’d vote for “Rough and Tumble” with its great horns and programmed keyboard runs. Or there’s the Beatlesy (with just a touch of ELO) “Dear Modern Times.” What a gorgeous tune! The spacious piano opener and striking vocal arc that kick off the song are utterly captivating. I also like the darling “Dancing with Gertrude” and the stand out yet simple guitar lead line defining “No Hard Feelings.” By the time we get to “White Courtesy Phone” we’re ready for this last-dance, shuffle-the-patrons-out-the-door song. Frater’s put together a game changer here. While some prior albums have sounded like lovingly crafted period pieces, Aerodrome Motel is more a timeless distillation of the past with songs that sound good whether it’s yesterday, today or tomorrow.
With I’ll Remember the Laughter singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music scribe to the stars Ken Sharp offers us a record of delicious indulgence, a collection of 50 songs! The package is like a chocolate box with no bottom. As a clever curator of 1970s-era styles Sharp basically brings your favourite acts from that decade back to life to record one more should-be classic. The range of pop genres here is incredible: beach tunes, Philly soul, glam rock, baroque pop, and more. Album opener “Maybe Next Summer” sets the scene, crossing the transom from the sixties to early seventies with a strong Beach Boys vibe. From there it is a very rapid ride over a wide variety of stylistic riffs. You may note elements of late-period Lennon-esque Beatles on “Nobody Told Me the World Was Round,” some Philly pop soul on “Philly Get Back,” a Paul Simon session with Big Star on “She Will Be” and a McCartney “Let Me Roll It” grind to the guitar on “Shut Out the Lights.” The record also has a few inspired covers, like the two recovered Rick Springfield gems “Comic Book Heroes” and “I’m Your Superman.” There’s too much here for me to cover every song – let me single out some of my faves. As much as I too recall fondly all the 70s song motifs on this album I’m more drawn to the jangly, almost new wave cuts. Like the sharp glam feel of “It Pays to be a Rock and Roll Star” or the hooky guitar lead line heavy “Somewhere South of San Diego.” I love how the rhythm guitar rings out on “Maybe You’re Right.” “No More Silver Lining” has an almost Blue Oyster Cult or Moody Blues hint of menace in the melody as well as some tasty guitar work. “Between the Lines” is just perfect poprock circa 1979 with winning guitar runs plus soaring, melodic vocals. This is the hit for me. Then there’s the lighter, more acoustic “Down in Monterey.” Lovely, hypnotic, pop folk. What we have here is really a ‘make your own album’ affair, one where listeners could selectively assemble their own seventies mini-album. Or they could just hit play and party for days.
Hit play on these albums and it’s easy to believe to world is a more pretty place than it may appear. Sometimes hearing is believing.
Photo courtesy of The Vinyl Factory.