My recent efforts to come up with the perfect imaginary album for Aztec Camera caused a few folk to comment about the lack of any tracks from the 1984 LP Knife with a number suggesting that it is very much an underrated record. I thought I’d offer up a personal perspective if that’s OK with you guys and gals….
The biggest and most obvious issue facing Knife is that it isn’t High Land Hard Rain MkII. There are always great expectations of any singer or band whose debut LP has taken the world by storm and the pressures more often than not lead to ‘difficult second album syndrome’. Nobody however, anticipated this being an issue for Aztec Camera given just how bloody brilliant the songs had been thus far from the Postcard debuts through to the b-sides of the singles lifted from HLHR. Plus there was the fact that Malcolm Ross who was already a legend in Scottish music circles thanks to his involvement with Josef K and Orange Juice – was now part of the band; it was the very thought of him and Roddy both playing guitar on the new material that whetted many an appetite.
And then it was revealed that the choice of producer was to be Mark Knopfler who at the time was flying very high with Dire Straits but whose songs and style was very much at odds with the Glasgow indie cognoscenti. Some immediately anticipated disaster while others, and I was among them, thought it was an inspired choice that would surely bring out the best in the Roddy and Malcolm as far as guitar playing went.
Some of the new songs were aired in the live setting with one such occasion being a free early evening gig at Glasgow Barrowlands in August 1984 that was broadcast as part of a continuous 15 hour music show on BBC2 (The Cure would also perform from the same venue later in the evening, again as free gig). The crowd response to the new material was fairly muted, partly out of a lack of familiarity with the material but partly as they just didn’t seem to be as strong as the older songs.
A few days later, All I Need Is Everything was released as the advance single. It was a shock to the system. Not as much for the a-side which was decent enough if a tad blander and less catchy than most of us would have liked but for the fact that the b-side being a cover of Jump by Van Halen. Maybe it was meant to be ironic but I hated the original with a passion and just couldn’t bring myself to endure Roddy’s take on it. The other thing that was worrying about the a-side was the fact, just like the remix of Walk Out To Winter when it was released as a 45, there was a fair bit of reliance on a synthesiser on the record which didn’t sit too easy with a number of fans who saw Aztec Camera as being very much a guitar band akin to The Smiths and Everything But The Girl.
The single didn’t quite bomb but three weeks floating around in the mid-30s on the charts was not the outcome the folk at WEA had been anticipating…and the critical backlash to the release of the album just a few weeks later did nothing to help.
More than 30 years on, I’m still of the view that Knife is a stinker of a record albeit it does have the occasional decent moment. Let’s get the truly awful out-of-the-way first………….and that is the fact that the title track would not have sounded out-of-place on a Dire Straits record. It is nine minutes long; it is more akin to noodling or jamming than a proper song; it was unlistenable then and it remains that way today. The one saving grace is that it was the closing track on side 2 and so you could race over to the turntable and lift the needle out of the groove before it started.
Knife also disappointed in other ways. Having only eight songs meant fans felt a bit short-changed. The extended version of All I Need Is Everything on the album was a total waste of time as all we got was two minutes of bland elevator synth muzak tagged on at the end. There wasn’t much evidence of the indie-pop guitar sound many of us had been hoping albeit album opener Still On Fire just about fits bill but is let down again by a reliance on synths in the instrumental break.
I suppose if I hadn’t known anything about Aztec Camera before the release of Knife then I’d have been impressed with Just Like The USA and The Birth of the True but they felt at the time, and still do, as poor relations to tracks on HLHR. Such were the standards on which they were being judged.
The remaining three tracks don’t do anything for me. I was particularly disappointed with Back Door To Heaven, the ballad that closes side one of the album which has an awful production complete with Roddy struggling with a vocal style that was completely alien to him.
So there you have it. A highly personal view that Knife doesn’t cut it. It’s no shock that it cost the band a fair chunk of its initial fanbase., that it also sold poorly and led to a major rethink from all concerned. It would take three years before the next Aztec Camera album would be released by which time only Roddy Frame was left from those who had been involved in the first two records…..
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Still On Fire
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Just Like The USA
mp3 : Aztec Camera – The Birth Of The True
and NOT from the album:-
mp3 : Aztec Camera – All I Need Is Everything (single version)