Fred Frith

Cheap at Half the Price [East Side Digital/Ralph]

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Frith's last album for Ralph Records stepped back from the progressions of Speechless to a concoction of pop-like ditties and instrumentals recorded at home on a four track. And for the first time, Frith sings, in a strange high-pitched tone. A little more production and sound manipulation and this could almost be a Residents album, circa 1978. As a pop-song writer, Frith is okay; he shrouds socialist discussion in lyrics about dogs and insects while keeping the song structure simple and repetitive. "Too Much Too Little" and "Some Clouds Don't" are whimsical songs, simple beauty overshadowed by fear of Reagan-administration nuclear holocaust. Frith saw the danger in the upbeat early '80s as threatening to the lessons of history and a derailment to the cause; one wonders if the sunny moments of the album aren't actually one big joke. The instrumentals reside less in the pop vein, but like "The Great Healer" or "Heart Bares" they don't go further than moody experiments in Frith's home studio. Only "Absent Friends," a traditional Swedish melody rearranged by Frith, breaks that mold.

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