Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Aztec Camera

  • High Land, Hard Rain [Sire, 1983] A-
  • Oblivious [Sire EP, 1983] B
  • Knife [Sire, 1984] B+
  • Love [Sire, 1987] A-
  • Stray [Sire, 1990] B+
  • Frestonia [Reprise, 1995] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

High Land, Hard Rain [Sire, 1983]
At first I did the obvious thing and pigeonholed this as high-grade pop--richer and truer than Haircut 100 or even the dB's or the Bongos and ultimately feckless anyhow. Now I think it's more like U2 with songs (which is all U2 needs). For sheer composition--not just good tunes, but good tunes that swoop and chime and give you goosebumps--Roddy Frame's only current competition is Marshall Crenshaw, and unlike Crenshaw he never makes you smell retro. His wordcraft is worthy of someone who admires Keats, his wordplay worthy of someone admired by Elvis C.; he sings and arranges with a rousing lyricism that melds militance and the love of life. These are songs in which sweet retreat can't be permanent, in which idealism is buffeted but unbowed--songs of that rare kind of innocence that has survived hard experience. So far, anyway--Frame is still very young. How unusual it is these days for youth to add resonance to what used to be teen music. A-

Oblivious [Sire EP, 1983]
Remixing the signature cut from their best (first) album and adding three old B sides that beat the filler off its Knopflerized follow-up, this is cultbound nevertheless: too slight and loose for anybody but converts and mamas to love, or buy. Cf. their new B side, "Jump," which is slight and loose for the ages--Roddy Frame's loaded Eddie Van Halen parody is one of the great art statements in the history of inept guitar. If only some ombudsman at Warners would tack it on here. B

Knife [Sire, 1984]
Given the putrefaction potential of the straightforwardly literary romanticism Roddy Frame affects, it's amazing he did so brilliantly with it even once. In fact, it's fairly amazing that second time out he gets away with it three songs' worth--three songs whose verbal lyricism sharpens the consistently winsome music, which is the kind of unlikely feat critics expect of straightforwardly literary types. Silly though it seems, Frame may be right to worry that his youth is passing at twenty-one, unless you want to blame the five merely winsome songs on producer Mark Knopfler, who probably thought "Here lies the essence of my peers" a deep line and certainly cheered "Knife" on to nine minutes. B+

Love [Sire, 1987]
Not only is this Roddy Frame's solo debut in disguise, it's the worst kind of solo debut, replete with electronic everything and hacks/pros like Marcus Miller and Tommy LiPuma. Yet even after three straight slow ones on side two, the kid is putting over his own style of hit-factory romance the way he once put over his own style of schoolboy verse. The voice still gives off that sincere ache. And strummed or picked, the guitar lifts off every time. A-

Stray [Sire, 1990]
Virtually unnoticed since it surfaced last July, this is Roddy Frame's fourth album in eight or nine years as a prodigy, which I guess makes him a failure. Sounding like Harold Arlen one minute and the Clash the next is no way to convince the world of your unique genius, especially if you hint at Green Gartside in between. But I say he gets it all, and wish the pomo crowd would pump his pastiche. B+

Frestonia [Reprise, 1995] Dud