Frith, Fred - Prints

Year of Release: 2003
Label: ReR Recommended
Catalog Number: FRA02
Format: CD
Total Time: 41:41:00

Let's play a little game, shall we? It's called word association. That one in which someone says a word and another person says whatever comes to mind first. Except this one has a slight catch. Only I'm playing, and no one's being sent to a sanitarium anytime soon. At least in the nearby vicinity. Ready? Here we go: Fred Frith - songs. Now children, who can say why yours truly has just hit rock bottom as far as the guidelines of common sense and human intelligence go? Exactly. Frith and song don't go together, or at least they don't seem to very often. But if there's yet another valuable lesson to be learnt in life, that is, apart from breathing, it's that there's an exception to every rule. And dear Mr. Frith, no stranger to the fine art of pulverizing them, has just gone overboard again: out of the twelve tracks that comprise Prints, nine are actually songs. Hold on to your guts kids. Chances are hell is freezing over right this very second.

Or perhaps not. At first sight, the Frith aficionado with no previous knowledge of any of the work contained herein would perhaps feel a retching sensation after seeing the name Burt Bacharach included somewhere. After hearing how the tribute cover song "Trains & Boats & Planes" does include all the catchiness and basic themes of the original but awkwardly enough mutates them by means of unexpected overlapping and a few other surprises, however, things could be different. Quite different. Because the charm of the entire record, or at least of its vast majority, comes from not only from its songs' incredibly accessible and catchy nature, but also from the curveballs that they feature. There's some implicit polyrhythm in the overlapping of the aforementioned Bacharach tribute, some hidden string dissonance in the very background of "Life Of A Detective," the simple odd time signature of the otherwise perfectly danceable beat of "Reduce Me," and so on. In layman's terms: your mom and friends could probably hear most of it, but you could, too. Now start getting ready to throw yourself a party with all your acquaintances. Just don't bring the pretentiously boring ones.

Why not? Well, because there isn't quite anything that they would like, save for maybe the typically Frith guitar improvisation of "Spot." Otherwise, not even the fact that a good number of the songs on Prints were completely improvised with samples and newspaper texts will convince them of hearing the hysterical slap-happy fun of a track such as "True Love," which brings to mind a comedy about a girl that dumps some dumb rich guy who thinks she's only in it for the money. Nah, they wouldn't even smile at the forlorn and spare piano sadness of "In The Winter Of '64," or at the touching polyrhythmic guitar beauty of "Trocosi" and the way in which it transforms midway into what sounds like a dobro improvisation. Not even the slow and sad spy sexiness of "The Ballad Of Melody Nelson," the apocalyptic doom pangs of "I Want It To Be Over," or the folky fiddles at the end of "Life Of A Detective" would raise their eyebrows. So do us all a favor, keep 'em out, and enjoy yourself. It's just too bad they didn't realize how every catchy theme on the record ends up being strangely warped at one point or another.

And it's their loss, really. While Prints may be considered softcore Fred Frith by many, there is no way to fault the levels of general excitement that the album produces along its way with strong poignancy. It can be a Super Mario Brothers giddy mood, a jerky syncopated feel, an African chant sentiment, or what have you, but whatever it is, it's bound to tug at one's heart. And the true magic of the record is that despite the twisting that some themes endure throughout, and despite the fact that some things seem to have been left slightly off with the purpose of making the music seem more spontaneous, it always hits close to home one way or another. Softcore Frith or no softcore Frith, this one's a keeper. A clever, immediate, and unforgettable keeper.

Trains & Boats & Planes (5:07) / Stones (2:02) / Fingerprints (3:50) / Life of a Detective (3:13) / The Ballad of Melody Nelson (2:01) / Trocosi (4:36) / Reduce Me (5:48) / Levity (2:36) / True Love (2:56) / I Want It To Be Over (3:01) / Spot (4:38) / In The Winter Of '64 (1:48)

Fred Frith - instruments, samples, and voices
Guest musicians:

Bernd Lehmann - clarinet
Mike Johnson - voice
Dave Kerman - voice
Sebastian Gramms - acoustic bass
Alexandra Schulz - voice
Sheena Dupuis - voice

Selected Works:

Henry Cow - Unrest (1974)
Henry Cow - Concerts (1976)
Henry Cow - Western Culture (1978)
Art Bears - Hopes And Fears (1978)
Art Bears - Winter Songs (1979)
Gravity (1980/2002)
Art Bears - The World As It Is Today (1981)
Memory Serves (w/Material) (1981)
Massacre - Killing Time (1981)
Who Needs Enemies? (w/Henry Kaiser) (1983)
Skeleton Crew - Learn To Talk (1984)
skeleton Crew - The Country Of Blinds (1986)
Nous Autres (w/Rene Lussier) (1987)
Dropera (w/Ferdinand Richard) (1990)
Death Ambient (w/Ikue Mori & Kato Hideki) (1995)
The Guitar Quartet - Ayaya Moses (1997)
Synesthesia (w/Mori & Hideki) (1998)
Massacre - Funny Valentine (1998)
The Guitar Quartet - Upbeat (1998)
Massacre - Meltdown (2001)
Accidental (2002)
Keep The Dog - That House We Lived In (2003)
Prints (2003)
The Sugar Factory (w/Evelyn Glennie) (2007)
Drunken Forest (w/Mori & Hideki) (2007)
Massacre - Lonely Heart (2007)
See complete discography here

Genre: Rock In Opposition

Origin UK

Added: September 8th 2003
Reviewer: Marcelo Silveyra
Artist website:
Hits: 1013
Language: english


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