The Bevis Frond - We're Your Friends, Man - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Bevis Frond - We're Your Friends, Man

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2018-12-07
The Bevis Frond - We're Your Friends, Man
The Bevis Frond - We're Your Friends, Man

It’s been three years since the Frond dropped Example 22 (representing Frond frontman Nick Saloman’s estimated count of his/their albums to date), so these 20 tracks spread across 90 minutes on two slabs of vinyl is more than a welcome return. It also marks the first time in nearly 30 years that he’s released an album on a label other than his own Woronzow imprint. Fire have been reissuing his back catalogue of late, so this new release might be seen as a thank you for the faith Fire has seen in the artist to make his catalogue available to a wider audience. If you’re new to the name, sit back and enjoy, as this is a perfect album to appreciate all the sonic intricacies the Frond have to offer, from short bursts of pop perfection to extended, jam-based improvs, with the perfectly placed solos dropped in to remind that the ol’ boy still knows how to bend a string or three (cf., ‘Old Wives Tales’ and the bluesy ‘When You Cast Me Out’)!

Opener ‘Enjoy’ is a deliriously giddy, self-deprecating love note to Saloman’s fans, from the timely “This is the last thing on your Christmas list” (let’s hope the release date isn’t pushed to next year!) to the chronological reference to those keeping score (“This is the twenty-somethingth swingin’ disc”) to the apologetic hope that the album meets everyone’s expectations (“It doesn’t begin to justify the time it took/I’m not even sure it’s worthy of a second look/I wanted to make the masterpiece you waited for/But maybe I just can’t do it anymore”. All of this is set to an energetic rock backing by what Saloman calls “the best band I’ve ever had”: legendary bassist Ade Shaw (Hawkwind), fellow guitarist Paul Simmons (Alchemysts, Cravats), and skin pounder Dave Pearce, who released an album with his previous band Psycho’s Mum on Woronzow nearly 30 years ago.

The title track is a rainy day reflective song, from the opening lyric (“One cloud of warm rain hangs in the sky”) through its dreamy, Neil Young-in-acoustic-mode arrangement. But before you have a chance to worry if the ol’ chap has gone soft on us, ‘Lead On’ rips off a patently brilliant earworm riff that sounds like ol’ Neil’s invited his Crazy Horse mates in to have a go. Fans of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere may also recognize a few riffs in there as well, although the solos are vintage Saloman, harkening back to favourites like ‘The Shrine’ and ‘Stain On The Sun’.

‘Little Orchestras’ demonstrates that Saloman hasn’t lost his tender, sensitive side as he reflects on the songs that brought a tear and a smile into his life, from Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ to the Fab Four’s ‘Ask Me Why’ right on up to his own ‘Coming Round’ (from 1991’s London Stone). Saloman has always been a brilliant lyric writer and his ability to lay bare his soul while pinning his heart to his sleeve is refreshing and honest, and as he enters the twilight of his career we can all appreciate what joy and memories music (his and our own lifelong favourites) has brought us throughout our lives. Not many writers can translate that feeling into words as succinctly as Saloman and his songs and albums are all the better for it.

‘Venom Drain’ also reflects on Saloman’s career and life while looking ahead with suggestions to act on all your dreams and plans before time runs out, while still pondering a career that relies on others “really liking you”: “And I'm feeling okay, and maybe they really like me/Cos it's hard to believe these decades have all been spent in vain”. ‘Theft’ covers the same ground – friends have passed or fell into an unrecoverable spiral down a well of alcohol, so I better get my shit together and stick to what I do best: “I'm an old muso - an interesting relic/I've never been busted - I'm not psychedelic/I make no excuses - it's just what I am/And I'll play for the few while I can”.

‘Gig Bag’ is one of the album’s shortest tracks and one of its best – a storming little pop ditty showcasing Saloman’s magnificent talent in creating unforgettable melodies that stick with you long after the album’s back in its sleeve. ‘Birds of Prey’ is another lovely ballad with a rather familiar melody that escapes me, but I’m sure I recognize it from an earlier Frond track. In the event, it scores on a magnificent guitar duel between Simmons and Saloman carrying the contemplative, navel-gazing lyrics.

Saving the bombast for last, ‘And Relax…’  and 'The Steeple Doesn't Reach The Sky' chug along with pummeling riffs and earsplitting pyrotechnical guitar displays, while epic 13-minute backstop ‘You’re On Your Own’ sharpens the vitriol for past critical transgressions (“Enter asinine reviewer/Blithely referencing nemesis/Take your viewpoint to the sewer/And never come back to these premises”), olde London and five-a-side memories (“This is not the sport I cherish/And not the London I remember”) all set to the best, wildest Neil-and-Crazy Horse-styled riffage this side of Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Gene Clark’. The final burst of guitar terror rides a rocket of flames into the great wide yonder...

Welcome back, lads, we missed ya! As suggested, “the last thing on my Christmas list” and one of the first ones on my Top 10 of 2018!

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