Roddy Frame “Surf”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#479 in the Series) is Roddy Frame, Surf

I think it would be fair to say that Aztec Camera were one of the very best bands to ever come out of Scotland. Their first two singles were released on the tiny (and now legendary/very influential) independent label Postcard, swiftly followed by a move to Rough Trade. Debut album High Land , Hard Rain (1983)was an utter classic and possibly even the best debut album by a Scots act. That particular gem has already been featured on this site, so its merits need not detain us here. Suffice to say its well worth anyone’s time and attention.

The second effort (1984’s “Knife”, produced by a certain Mr. Mark Knopfler) wasn’t too shabby either and they went on from there to release a fine body of work , six albums in total. A damn fine band then.

Or so you’d think!

The thing is you see, it wasn’t really a band at all, not in the true sense of the word. Aztec Camera was to, all intents and purposes, merely a convenient brand name, a tuneful umbrella under which sheltered only one man, Roddy Frame. He was the singer, the guitarist and the songwriter. Apart from maybe the first two albums, which had a more or less stable line-up, most of the bands recording and live endeavours were undertaken by Frame and whatever session musicians he chose to work with at the time.

By the mid-90’s he’d grown a bit fed up with it all and decided to a backseat for a while and when he returned a few years later it was on a new label and as a solo artist.

1998’s North Star was a solid effort which built upon past glories and contained 3 or 4 contenders for any future “Best Of” compilation, notably “Bigger,Brighter,Better” and the beautiful “Hymn To Grace”.

And then, 4 years later, came this one, Surf, a quite wondrous creation and very possibly the best album he’s ever made.

Now it’s very tempting at this point to lapse into cliché and hit you with the old “nothing could have prepared you for this” line but in this instance it would simply not be true and in fact the opposite may well be the case. For long term fans this was the album Roddy had been threatening to make for years. Solo songs with just him and his acoustic had long been (sporadic) highlights of Aztec Camera albums, this time he put a bunch of them together on the same album. Result : perfection.

What I love about it is the sheer simplicity of it all. Roddy. Guitar. Press “record”. That’s it in a nutshell. No bells and whistles and absolutely nothing fancy about it. What we get here is just………….the sheer artistry of a man who’s spent years learning his craft and has now gotten very good at it.

It’s mesmeric stuff as he takes us through the strongest set of songs he’d written in years. I think he probably went in to demo them, realized just how good these ones were and decided to keep the recording “back to basics” for that very reason. Let the songs stand alone, naked, their sheer beauty revealed with nothing to obscure it.

Ah , who knows, maybe I’m just getting carried away (again), he was probably just on a tight budget and this was the cheapest option !

I really can’t go into individual songs. For me it’s a very strong effort overall and there’s no weak links here, the standard remains very high throughout. I urge you strongly to seek this one out if you’re not familiar with it already, I’m pretty confident that you won’t be disappointed.

Oh and just before I go , a wee tip, if you do search for a copy, try and get the U.S/ Japanese, version with 2 extra tracks on it, both as good as the album itself.

— Stephen Dalrymple, Glasgow, Scotland

Track listing

All tracks written by Roddy Frame .

  1. “Over You” – 3:04
  2. “Surf” – 4:14
  3. “Small World” – 3:51
  4. “I Can’t Start Now” – 3:41
  5. “Abloom” – 2:17
  6. “Tough” – 2:17
  7. “Big Ben” – 3:37
  8. “High Class Music” – 3:09
  9. “Turning the World Around” – 3:16
  10. “Mixed Up Love” – 3:13
  11. “For What It Was” – 3:03


  • Roddy Frame – acoustic guitar , vocals


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Posted by Stephen Dalrymple
I was so much older then , i'm younger than that now.........

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