Reason #466 Why The 80’s Didn’t Suck

Name of artist: Aztec Camera
Primary songwriter: Roddy Frame
Country of origin: Scotland
Influenced by: Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, The Byrds
Similar artists: Lloyd Cole, The Smiths, Prefab Sprout

All Music Bio: For most intents and purposes, Aztec Camera is Roddy Frame, a Scottish guitarist/vocalist/songwriter. Several other musicians have passed through the band over the years — including founding members Campbell Owens (bass) and Dave Mulholland (drums) — but the one constant has beenFrame. Throughout his career, he has created a sophisticated, lush, and nearly jazzy acoustic-oriented guitar pop, relying on gentle melodies and clever wordplay inspired by Elvis Costello.

Aztec Camera released their debut album, High Land, Hard Rain, in 1983. Before its release, Owens and Mulholland ad left the group, leaving Frame to assemble the record himself. Upon its release, the album won significant amounts of critical praise for its well-crafted, multi-layered pop. After releasing a stop-gap EP, Oblivious, the group’s second full-length record, Knife, appeared in 1984. Produced by Mark Knopfler, the album was more polished and immediate than the debut, featuring horn arrangements and a slight R&B influence.

Uncle E’s album pick: “Knife”, from 1984.

Allmusic, and everyone else for that matter, believes this album to be inferior to the debut (‘83’s High Land, Hard Rain), the one-legged stepchild of Frame’s discography. Mark Knopfler produced and in doing so added a sheen of professionalism to the songs which, in my opinion, were far superior to anything this band has put out before or since. Songs like “Just Like The USA”, “Backwards and Forwards”, “The Birth Of The True” in addition to the monumental title track, are sincere, affecting and extremely well executed. For bonus points I must add that they are also catchy as hell, too! A couple of the songs have that putrid 80’s “sheen” attached to them, but overall it’s consistently enjoyable and rewards repeat listening. Even the debut, which still has some critics drooling in their laps, has some very dated material. Like a lot of 80’s bands I lost interest after the 2nd album and have never bought anything else by Aztec Camera. Knife and High Land Hard Rain remain 2 damn good reasons why the 1980’s didn’t suck nearly as bad as most of us remember. If you can find it, Frame’s acoustic version of the Van Halen synth-classic “Jump” is by far the definitive version.