The Frameshave been together in one form or another for twenty-five years and counting. A quarter of a century. That’s a pretty impressive innings, given their profession that they have made it up as they’ve gone along, more ambling than shambling, steadily building up an avid fan base the world over. Not many bands can claim such an achievement – the bonhomie that keeps this fraternity chugging along is clearly genuine, a deep bond that has been forged from years of grinding against an industry that is largely indifferent to proper songs that cannot be squeezed into an easily marketed pigeonhole.
That same defiance informs Longitude, subtitled “An Introduction To” and described by its makers as a “mix-tape for a friend” rather than a conventional best of with all the singles in chronological order in, to invoke The Smiths, “a double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge”. Certainly, some ardent followers will baulk at the omission of short, sharp tracks, with the emphasis instead on the slow-burning ‘Happy’ and ‘People Get Ready’, each one ever popular at live shows. Meanwhile, ‘The Cost’, lifted from the album of the same name, recalls Pink Floyd, unsurprising given that the band were wont to break into ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ during this period.
There are also more leftfield choices such as the instrumental ‘In The Deep Shade’, a lovely thing that once ushered in seminal album For The Birds yet here is plonked in the middle, almost as a palate cleanser. There is also the off-kilter ‘Ship Caught In The Bay’, which, with its cut-up samples and break-beats, invites comparisons to Radiohead circa Kid A – the reference is only predictable because it is unavoidable.
Consequently, Longitude has a somewhat disjointed feel, but that is in and of itself reflective of the The Frames’ shape-shifting career to date, either under their own moniker or shadowing as The Swell Season and backing band for Hansard’s solo projects. While this album wrong-foots constantly, the through line is the emphasis on stirring, tension fuelled songs, in particular ‘Revelate’ and ‘Fitzcarraldo’, newly re-recorded and shorn of the odd ZTT production from which the originals suffered. The latter, with its combination of impassioned vocals, bass line and violin, has become the band’s calling card. Inspired by the Werner Herzog film in which a man is inspired to drag a steamship over a mountain, it epitomises the group’s indomitable spirit. The recurring theme of being resolute in the face of adversity climaxes, both musically and lyrically, with new track ‘None But I’. It’s an intriguing hint at what The Frames would sound like next if they ever get around to recording a new album.
There are those who will find fault with the fact that there are only a dozen tracks (16 if you buy the vinyl) on Longitude, none of which are from The Frames’ debut Another Love Song. This is a reasonable complaint, but it’s better to judge this release on what is included, and that is very good indeed. Ross Thompson