Aztec Camera

Stray

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A welcome comeback after the flaccid dance-pop of 1987's insipid Love, Stray is among Roddy Frame's most assured and diverse collections of songs. Unlike previous Aztec Camera albums, there's not one unifying style to the disc, and the variety makes Stray one of Frame's better collections. From the assured rocking pop of the singles "The Crying Scene" (the closest thing Aztec Camera ever got to an American hit single) and "Good Morning Britain" (a rousing collaboration with Mick Jones of the Clash and Big Audio Dynamite) to the cool, Chet Baker-ish cocktail jazz of "Over My Head," Frame covers the waterfront, but it's the quartet of songs that constitutes the second half of the album that impress the most. These four songs, "How It Is," "The Gentle Kind," "Notting Hill Blues," and the tender acoustic closer "Song For A Friend," are a loosely connected cycle mingling folk, soul, and pop in varying proportions. Starting with a bitterly cynical denunciation of modern society, the four songs move through sadness and resignation to a hopeful, sweet closure. Shorn of the pretentiousness that mars some of Frame's earlier lyrics -- written, to be fair, while he was still in his mid-teens -- the lyrics on Stray are the first that stand up to Frame's remarkable melodic sense. The simple, low-key production by Frame and Eric Calvi also retreats from the unfortunate excesses of both Love and its misbegotten Mark Knopfler-produced predecessor, Knife. With the exception of Aztec Camera's 1983 debut High Land Hard Rain, this is Roddy Frame's best album.

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