Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Frames - The Cost (2007)

When you've heard what you consider to be a band's best album, the next album is a tricky thing: it's generally a trend towards either further greatness or "Use Your Illusion" spectacular disappointment. (Hint: it's more often the latter.) And when it's one of your favorite bands that has a "best one yet" moment, there is a lot of anticipation and trepidation when the next album falls.

In my case, The Frames' album Burn the Maps was (IMHO) the most consistent album the band had produced, and their best -- a great mix of their low-key and up-tempo strengths.

Thus, as Ireland's second-favorite sons released The Cost, I was a bit skeptical. When I heard it was significantly more low-key than Burn the Maps, I got worried. But (as the sucker I am), I still bought the album.

This album is, in fact, much more laid back than Burn the Maps, but there's such an intensity to Glen Hanard's performance (lead singer, guitar) backed with such beautiful melodies... well, I start gushing like a little schoolgirl, apparently. Think great lyrics and voice, backed by a charged up folk band (or quieted rock band), with well-placed strings and piano. Just a great, solid, almost Americana sound, with arrangements from sparse to almost orchestral. An all-around great sounding and well-performed album.

This is one of those albums I should not like, but I do. I love it. Absolutely a band at the top of their game -- eight of the ten songs are absolute gems (I'm listening to the album now and I've changed that number five times). And the other two are also very good.

And now, here's some trivia that should make you really care about the band:
  • Glen Hansard played one of the band members in the 1991 movie The Commitments -- the red-haired guitarist Outspan Foster. He also appears (as the lead) in the Sundance Audience Award-winning film Once, which came out this year, in his only other acting role.
  • "The Frames" band name comes from Hansard's habit of fixing the bicycles of his friends as a youngster.
  • All of The Frames' albums have gone at least Double Platinum in Ireland.
  • The Frames put on a hell of a live show.
Now that last one is not actually trivia, but it is a fact. My friend Denis and I witnessed what is still one of the five best shows I've ever seen live. I'd suggest going to see them live if you can -- hopefully they stop playing the Somerville Theater and play The Paradise again and make it a proper rock show.

Merch Rating: The beauty of having two ratings systems is that I can do whatever the hell I want to. In this case, the CD Placement rating doesn't work because I simply wouldn't play this in my car -- it's too mellow -- although (in terms of quality) it certainly deserves to be there. (Sean is trying to convince me that the new Eliot Smith CD should be played in the car, which I will trust him on, but generally I find low-key = driving off the road.)

I'd buy their next album, a t-shirt, go to the show (hopefully not at Somerville -- great venue, wrong band), and buy albums there I don't own by them. If they sold Frames socks, I'd probably buy them too. In short... listen to them, you idiot.