Whatever it is about Scotland that makes its songwriters singularly smart devotees of pop music, it has continued unabated for some time. Alongside the power-pop titans of Teenage Fanclub and twee-minstrels of Belle and Sebastian stands Roddy Frame, better known with a backing band under the moniker of Aztec Camera. Their 1983 debut, High Land, Hard Rain, has long been lauded as a masterpiece, echoing and refining the sound of contemporaries like Orange Juice, but it was followed by increasingly disappointing returns.

1990 seemed to change that a bit with the excellent Stray. The title is a reflection of both the lost romantic elements that lyrically grace the album and the fact that the record never seems to stay in one place musically from track to track. Slow burning jazz croons appear twice in the first side with the opening title track and the gorgeous “Over My Head.” Big, righteous rock and roll comes in the form of singles “The Crying Scene” and the Mick Jones-featuring “Good Morning Britain.” There’s even plenty of evidence that the 80s weren’t too far gone in the form of smoothly produced pop on “The Gentle Kind.

But as much as this makes Stray sound like a mess, it’s an album of subtle connections and at just over 41 minutes, it has an impact much larger than its individual parts. The bombastic surface-politics of “Good Morning Britain” wouldn’t pop nearly as hard without the lead-in of “Over My Head“‘s forlorn love. “How It Is” and its trad-rock riffs become much more beneficial as a lead-in to “The Gentle Kind“‘s slickly produced balladry. After the brass-ring aimed fiasco of their fourth album, Love, in 1987, it seems like Frame decided to let his muses flow and it was the right instinct. Stray is almost as good an entry point into the world of Aztec Camera as High Land, Hard Rain, but is also an essential piece of the Scottish pop legacy.  words/ j neas

MP3: Aztec Camera :: Over My Head
MP3: Aztec Camera :: Good Morning Britain
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10 Responses to “Aztec Camera :: Stray”

  1. Finally some love for a very underrated band and songwriter,Aztec Camera put out some the finest pop music of the eighties and stray is no doubt an underrated classic,but in saying that the albums after High land,Hard Rain,were disappointing,are you saying that Knife was was not good,I definitely would disagree,Knife is as good if not better than High land,Hard Rain,just listen to Still on Fire,Just like the U.S.A and Backwards and Forwards,these songs are simply amazing and although their third album Love with its overwrought productions and excess gloss was a bit of a disappointment but still has its merits,as does their other albums Dreamland and Frestonian,needles to say Roddy and his band never put out a bad album,even as he went in a more sophisti-pop direction,again good to see you give Aztec Camera a little love!!!

  2. Also, if I’m not mistaken: Cocteau Twins, Proclaimers, FAirground Attraction, Eddie Reader, Primal Scream, One Dove, Jesus & Mary Chain (even Middle of the Road…)

  3. Always thought that AC’s cover of Jump (on Knife) was excellent.

  4. It was Mick Jones not the mighty Joe Strummer. Don’t get me started with the mighty Roddy Frame. Made many a mix tape with that dude on it after catching Aztec Camera opening for Elvis Costello back in the day. It was my hope to use an AC tune to finally see a boob, but it was not to be. All it got ne was under the shirt, but over the bra.

  5. Those two tracks are great. Going to have to dig deeper with this band.

  6. Thanks for reminding me about these guys. I have since picked up ‘Stray’ and ‘Hand Land, Hard Rain’. I had completely forgotten about Aztec Camera, but now they’re on heavy rotation at my house. Again, my love for Aquarium Drunkard ever grows…

  7. One of my all-time favorite bands, and one of their best albums. This is easily my favorite music blog. I will contest that ‘Knife’ is almost as good as HLHR; despite moving in a more New Wave direction it still has some excellent songs.

  8. @ Hansen – Bah! You’re right. Got my Clash members twisted around.

  9. I appreciate this post, I’m new to your blog and it is refreshing to learn about new bands – especially international groups.

  10. Roddy Frame’s one of my favorite songwriters. So underrated. I even signed up for Myspace to friend him teehee:), only to find out later on it was just a fan created account.

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