Written by 4:22 am Audiophile Music

Longitude Maps: The Frames’ Greatness Hits

Mark Smotroff aims his compass on one of Ireland’s finest treasures

For some artists, when a record label issues a so called “Greatest Hits” collection, it is often a kiss of death  — delineating that moment in time when any and all subsequent releases might be deemed irrelevant. Sometimes the hits collection is a contractual obligation release and can be almost an afterthought strategically in the artist or band’s career. Conversely, at other times a great compilation can become career defining.  

AR-FramesLongitudeCover225.jpgConsider The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, one of the biggest selling records of all time that summarized their illustrious rise to super stardom, but which actually set the stage for a bigger success to come. Bowie’s ChangesOne collection was a fine fine summary of that initial wave of the Thin White Duke’s pop ascension and for many it became a favorite — it works as an album in its own right, even though it is mostly made up of tracks from other collections.

On the flipside, Ireland’s fine rock ensemble The Frames have been woefully under-represented on vinyl here in the US, so I was thrilled to find a nice, reasonably priced two LP set on the racks at Amoeba Records recently.

What’s that? Yeah, you in the third row over on the right there. You say you never heard of The Frames?

Yeah… yeah…. I half expected that.  

AR-FramesBoat225.jpgWell, you’re gonna have to trust me on this one because they are a pretty big deal everywhere but here (they were on the Lollapalooza tour in 2006, apparently). I’ve seen them live and they are tremendous. Some of you may have heard their music in the film Once which stars Frames founder, singer and main songwriter Glen Hansard. If you’ve seen the film, remember that amazing band in the film that came together magically like some sort of street-corner Partridge Family? That was The Frames, a band that sounds like what might have happened had Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison fronted Pearl Jam run through a Radiohead-meets-E-Street Band blender.

One would have thought that film would have been a perfect springboard for building The Frame’s presence here in the US — it worked for me at least as that is where I first heard of them. They did tour the US several times. Those tours were perhaps diluted by parallel or overlapping tours by Hansard’s other spin off project from the Once film called The Swell Season.  And then there are his solo records and tours.

From a branding perspective, it might have been wiser to just stick with The Frames name and build that presence over time. But… hey… they didn’t ask me for my marketing advice then, did they and that is all 20/20 hindsight at this point.

AR-FramesLongitudeBandShot225.jpgSo, here we are in 2016 and there is a new high quality vinyl Frames album (released on the Anti Records label) celebrating the band’s 25 years in existence (!). The album is a real nice end-to-end listening experience. 

Longitude is not a “Greatest Hits” collection, by any stretch of the imagination. And in a way, its not even “new” as a little poking around the Web revealed that it was released overseas last year. 

If anything, I would call Longitude a “Greatness Hits” collection.

The band explains it (from the liner notes and on their label’s website):  “After many conversations amongst ourselves we decided it should simply be a collection of our favorite tunes, songs we would be happy to put on a mix-tape for a friend. So, here it is, with no regard to what album is most or least represented. It’s a short collection of tunes we are proud of, some in slightly different versions from the original recordings, and one new song. This is not the sum of our career but maybe some of the songs where we felt we had broken through to a new place or gotten better as a band. We hope you like it…. We hope you enjoy it.”

AR-FramesGlenStage225.jpgSo… Dear Readers… I suspect that now you are probably wondering if this album should be your introduction to The Frames?  It certainly couldn’t hurt!  It has many wonderful tunes on it such as the rocking “Revelate” and the fan sing-along favorite “Star Star.”  Its got a bunch of poignant deeper tracks from albums such as the title cut to The Cost and “People Get Ready” (not the Curtis Mayfield tune, by the way).  You get the title track from their acclaimed album Fitzcarraldo. The new song “None But I” is an bubbling-up type epic this side of late period Springsteen (think perhaps “Kingdom of Days” “Land of Hope and Dreams”) 

But … but… what about the “hits,” you ask?  Well, for those you might want to pick up the soundtrack to Once for starters which includes the 2008 Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” as well as fine versions of several songs that appeared on earlier Frames albums including “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and – perhaps most importantly – a stunning solo acoustic version of “Say It To Me Now” (which appeared on the band’s second album in 1995).

AR-FramesInNY225.jpgLet me put it this way: if you are the sort of listener who prefers to hear deeper album tracks before the more obvious hits, Longitude is the ship you want to sail out on first.  Certainly if you are fan of Hansard and The Frames already, you need this in your vinyl collection. It sounds real nice, is well centered and perfectly pressed on deep dark vinyl that is quiet. 

More importantly — if this thing sells through at retail here in the US, maybe just maybe we will get to hear more of The Frames albums on vinyl as well as the soundtrack to Once. To that latter point, I really do not understand why that recording has not come out on LP format yet or at least in a high resolution form.  I mean, it contains a song that had some 100,000 downloads on its own, for gosh sakes. You should also pick up The Cost which has full band versions of some amazing song which ended up in Once including the aforementioned Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up.” 

Don’t hesitate to aim your musical compass at The Frames — you’ll have an exciting journey and discover some fine treasures along the way.

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