NOPE……I STILL DON’T RATE IT HIGHLY

knife
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)

Enjoy

22 thoughts on “NOPE……I STILL DON’T RATE IT HIGHLY

  1. Completely agree with most of your assessment there and for mostly the same reasons. One major difference though – I think that the title track is one of the finest things Roddy’s ever produced and that it grows with age; lovely shimmering thing. The other stand out track is Backwards and Forwards which is more in keeping with the first album and nicely manages to steal its guitar solo from Love’s Forever Changes.

  2. If Dire Straits sounded liked Knife I would have more Dire Straits albums in my collection than 0.
    I applaud the fact that Frame didn’t try to produce HLHR pt 2 to satisfy the Glasgow indie cognoscenti who I found were all far too pleased with themselves anyway.

  3. Phew, Drew, now you really hit him a bit too hard, I must say !!

    Dunno, JC, the title track is really weak, I admit, but the rest of the album to me was rather splendid, still is, in fact.

    I think your problem is that you are not able to stop comparing it to HLHR, something which isn’t right in the first place. I fully understand it’s not easy not to do that though ….

  4. You realise I wasn’t including you in that JC, only the ones I knew and knew off and those that thought they were, if you get my drift?

  5. Having bought HLHR the day it came out, I never bought this album. Ever. My sister did though. So I listened to it. Once.

    I suppose then I’m agreeing with JC, but maybe if I gave it a chance now I might reassess and realise just what I missed. Don’t think I’ll bother though.

  6. JC, I’m beginning to think you don’t like Knife very much. Ha! Surely you were baiting your readers today. You had to know there would be some backlash. Since you used “rate” in your headline, I have to ask? Which do you like more (or perhaps the better way to ask, which do you dislike more), Knife or Love? This will be a great help with gauging how deep your feelings are about the sophomore effort.

  7. Knife is a fine record – Frame attempting not to repeat himself – maybe not so successfully, but what came out at the time that I hold dear was Frames reading of Van Halen’s Jump (which you can get with the deluxe reissue). The interpretation of that song excuses any and all missteps.

  8. yes you are right. the big disappointment was the total absence of the orchestrated ebb, flow, swell and crescendo of the acoustic guitars that defined High Land Hard Rain and were expected to remain his trademark. Replaced here by booming but bland synths, why??

    of the songs I think that birth of the true is a good follow up to down the dip and there is a good song lurking somewhere within Back Door to Heaven . check out the Live bbc2 version on sight and sound (you tube). More like these and Wotw b side Set The Killing Free would have been much much better. Like yourself didn’t get this then, still don’t get it now.

  9. Brian….

    I’d never bait my readers without a glint in my eye but this one is too serious for that sort of carry-on. I love Roddy Frame and the gig just a few weeks back was mesmerising but I stand by my thoughts and views on Knife.

    Love suffers from dreadful 80s era production that means I struggle to listen to much of it but the quality of its songs have come through in recent years thanks to solo stripped back performances.

    The songs on Knife, for the most part are disappointing. What is clear from the comments is that it still divides opinion all these years on….

    Echorich, Jacques and others………I still don’t get the love (pun intended) for the cover of Jump. I have tried y’know…..but it grates.

    Alex has probably nailed it better than I managed. A combination of Roddy and Malcolm Ross in the same studio was a mouth-watering prospect and the bomming bland synths that emerged on the record were heartbreaking.

    This whole debate however, captures perfectly why it is I love listening to music and talking about it/debating it with those whose passions are just like mine. Oh to get all of us in a pub of an evening………….

  10. Thanks JC. Promise I’m not busting your chops with the above. The best posts are the ones with this kind of debate. Love it.

  11. hey hey let’s all do it mine’s a pint, JC

    Incidentally just a quick word to say I was at the HLHR recreation gig at the concert hall a couple of years back. As mentioned on here it was overpriced but was a truly memorable night.

    Got chatting to a fellow Orange Juice/ Roddy / Postcard freak while listening to Mr Frame reminiscing about growing up in and longing to escape from East Kilbride against some backdrop b and w slides of said town in all its moody late 1970s monochrome before leading his band through preliminary set of pre HLHR material such as green jacket grey, orchid girl and the majestic, brilliant still best AC song ever, Just Like Gold.

    The main album run through was celebratory. roddy looked like he genuinely could not believe the reception he was getting, he was humble and very funny throughout.

    My only wish was that he could have got the band back together. Campbell Owens was apparently in the audience but not asked to take part. if only he and Malcolm Ross especially or Craig Gannon even had been on stage it would have been perfect. Dammit it was very nearly perfect as it was!

  12. I remain fond of Head is Happy (hearts insane) but yes, the album is pish overall. Mind you, the real disappointment was still to come. 3 years of waiting, imagining a return to form and then we hear “somewhere in your heart”. I still remember that first listen.
    Much like Orson Welles, Roddy Frame peaked young and has spent the rest of his years failing to match the early standard he set.

  13. Harsh rf (and surely you’re not The Boy Wonder himself with a very deprecating comment!!!)….a lot of the solo material has been very enjoyable and as I mentioned above and in the ‘imaginary album’ post, he has salvaged a lot of songs from ‘Love’ by stripping them back to his voice and acoustic guitar…the evidence of which can be found on a couple of ‘Live at…’ albums.

  14. I should perhaps give Roddy’s solo work as listen. Totally agree that ‘Knife’ was disappointing and as Brian says three years later was ‘Love’ which resulted in me turning my back on Mr Frame from that day to this.

  15. You are right JC, comment was a wee bit harsh! Slightly tongue in cheek but. You are also right that stripped back of their awful mid/late 80s production, the songs stand up a lot better (i downloaded How Men Are live in Osaka from here, I think, recently). It would also be fair to say, that he has created far more than most of us could hope to and, well, expectations of others are often unfair. I do share his initials, that’s all though!

  16. I totally blame the people at WEA/Warners for that 80’s sound. They were only thinking to ride the hype around Roddy and break him as an international act. I can imagine the record company people crowding around an 18-year old Roddy advising him on that lucrative ‘cross-over’ market in America…

  17. There is the other point Juls that we as fans often rate these works higher than the artists do themselves. I think that is the case with Roddy and HLHR . As his influences ran from the Clash to Al Green, to his ears maybe he rated Stray or Love above the jangly pop of HLHR.Sad for us but probably true.

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