They’ve opened up for Damien Rice and the New Pornographers, frontman Glen Hansard has appeared in a popular film, and they’ve been making albums for fifteen years. So why haven’t the Frames become a household name in America? Consider this, back in their home country of Ireland, they’ve consistently beaten even hometown heroes U2 as the best Irish live band. So what does U2 have that the Frames don’t? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, especially after hearing their latest release, The Cost. The Frames have impressed me with every subsequent release, as they incrementally hone their craft every time out, getting exponentially better and better as the albums go by. The Cost manages to combine the big sound of U2, the Waterboys and Big Country of the ’80s with today’s updated arena sound, scaled down for an intimate venue. The Cost, in a nutshell, outplays Coldplay, is the U1 to U2, and tries to mess with Radio’s Head, and I’ll be amazed if, by this time next year, everyone doesn’t know who the Frames are.
The first noticeable thing with The Cost is that all of the cylinders are firing. With the opening track, “Song for Someone,” Hansard’s voice is in peak form, while guitars and violin perform a hypnotic dance of the senses. The lyrics of this first track flow out of Hansard’s vocal chords with the requisite heartache, as he sings, “And if we’re all for someone / And if we’re both for someone / When will she come, that someone?” He even starts the song with a slight nod to Radiohead’s “High & Dry” as he sings, “Drying up in conversation, still.” And although Hansard pines for his true love in the first track, the next two songs seem to point to the fact that time is plentiful.
“Falling Slowly” finds the Frames iterating “Take the sinking boat and point it home / We’ve still got time.” Follower, the incredible “People Get Ready,” has a similar message with “We have all the time in the world / To get it right, to get it right.” In these songs, Hansard seems to be saying that there’s something a lot bigger out there than just lonely individuals, that there’s something each of us can do together, and that with time, patience and love, we can change the world. This message sounds like the type of thing that U2 used to sing about, like in “Pride (In the Name of Love).” This is the type of anthem that should be heard by everyone before the next Presidential Election. It perfectly captures a spirit of hope and optimism for change, and even throws in a little taunt, “Who will be there to ignore us / If you’re not, if you’re not.”
“Rise” has a pulse-pounding build-up reminiscent of Jeff Buckley while “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and its escalating cacophony of beautiful noise recalls the Waterboys at their peak. “Sad Songs” finds Hansard in Lindsey Buckingham territory, both musically and lyrically, which makes me wonder if Glen dated Stevie Nicks also. We should all be so unlucky in love. The title track is one of the biggest downers lyrically, but with dramatic guitar chords, the song becomes a sonic stunner. It should be noted at this point that The Cost was recorded live in the studio. While that may sound like an oxymoron, what I mean is, rather than record separate tracks over and over, they all played together and recorded these songs as one complete take, namely to capture the band’s signature live sound. The result is evident in the listening. All of the band members seem to feed off of each other’s energy, the violin pining while Hansard’s voice yearns with abandon.
All of the songs on The Cost have a build-up of energy that, when released, makes the listener stand up and take notice, and isn’t this what a great band should do? With every album, the Frames have seemed to have the formula perfected just a little bit more. Now, with The Cost, they have reached the next plateau, a place visited by only a handful of big arena bands. The difference, at least for now, is that you are still able to see the Frames in smaller, more intimate venues, where you can more enjoy every nuance of their performance. After a few singles are released, that might not last, as Glen Hansard and his buddies are ready for bigger things.
MP3: “Sad Songs”