Tuesday, February 4, 2014
REVIEW: Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain
"Amazing" is a very hard-working term these days, and some of us cynics think it could use a break. But before I tuck it in and turn or the lights, I'm compelled to recognize that the word remains appropriate from time to time. And a prime example of something that is amazing is High Land, Hard Rain. The early '80s were a heady time for guitar pop in Glasgow, a time that resulted in fame for Edwyn Collins' Orange Juice, Josef K, and Alan Horne's hip Postcard Records label, among others. A&R men from near and far were scouring the city for the next big talent. And shouldering his way into the mix was Roddy Frame, whose Aztec Camera released their "Just Like Gold" single on Postcard in 1983 when Roddy was 16-years old. There followed another single via Postcard and then, when Roddy was at the advanced age of 18, Aztec Camera released High Land, Hard Rain, their debut LP via Rough Trade in the UK and Sire Records in the US.
Roddy's songs reflected the bright sheen of new wave pop, with jazz and soul influences. But the skeleton is Glasgow jangle and the heartbeat is the optimism and insecurity of a teenage romantic. Bold, inspired, sincere and unaffected, some music writers considered it the best debut in pop music history. And it performed well commercially as well, charting well in the UK and the US.
Domino Records is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of High Land, Hard Rain by reissuing a deluxe edition. The record has been remastered from the original analog tapes. For the CD version, disc 1 contains the original album, and disc 2 contains alternate and live versions. I wondered whether the second CD was necessary until I heard it, and quickly concluded that it is a wonderful addition. Some of the alternate takes have become as interesting to me as the track on the main release. The vinyl version contains a download card for all the bonus material included in the CD version.
In my opinion (and the opinion of many others) there are no bad tracks. But I think any discussion of this album should feature the opening track, "Oblivious". Breezy, upbeat and boasting an appealing groove, it deserved its top 20 ranking.
Album track "We Could Send Letters" also was the B-side to the band's first single --
Roddy Frame's favorite song on the album was "Walk Out to Winter" --
Here is a live version of the album closer, from a 1984 performance in Madrid --
If you already are an Aztec Camera fan, you know you want this release, but I think any guitar pop fan would consider it an essential part of his or her collection.
Domino Records US pre-order page