The Frank and Walters

Beauty Becomes More Than Life

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Beauty Becomes More Than Life is only this Irish trio's third album -- not much to show for a decade's striving. Yet they've persevered with the same lineup, seven years since their only U.K. hit. That's a measure of this group's love of playing, and it continues to show in their work. The good-guy sincerity and optimism that informs their music makes them one of the most rooted-for groups in all of Britain. Who isn't charmed by singer Paul Linehan, really? Who wouldn't want their daughter or divorced mother to marry him? He's a gentleman, a merry, funny bloke, a caring friend type who gently needles himself and others, a sensitive poet with a deft handling of simple language to set an emotional scene, and a singer with a strange voice that sounds so empathetic, you wonder if he tours hospitals every day. Unlike most people, who can only write and croon songs of ache, longing, and sadness without sounding phony, Linehan flourishes with cheer-up lines such as, "There'll be brighter days awaiting/Of that I'm sure/And the sweetest sounds that you've not found/Are waiting there beneath the clouds." Thanks, Uncle Paul. You're better than a cup of tea and a Sara Lee S-cookie with grandma. Meanwhile, his two mates remain complementary, rough-hewn instead of seamless, spirited instead of precise, and not so mannered that they can't huff and puff themselves into a heady steam on more insistent numbers such as the opening "Plenty Times," the rousing chorus of "Woman," and the LP's true killer, "Time We Said Tonight." Mind you, Beauty is nowhere as wonderful as 1997's golden Grand Parade. It errs in placing tracks in the number four and five slots that merely meander, temporarily derailing the LP just as it's heating up. And throughout, the drums are too loud in the mix, obscuring some of the natural beauty they showed last time. Fortunately, there's otherwise no argument with the Franks' vivacity and nicely varied material, from the stinging, stabbing outro of "Let Me Know" to that breathtaking "Time We Said Tonight," a dramatic tune the Smiths at their best could have written.

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