Wednesday, September 16, 2009

completely frank

It has been hellaciously busy for me in recent weeks between studio productions, shows, meetings and travel to the City Of Angels. As of this writing, I'm still in the sunny climes of California. However, this is the first time I've had a chance to review anything. And the labels' release schedules through autumn assure there will be plenty for me to blather on about between now and when we hang the Christmas lights.

As far as electropop albums go, "Complete Me" by Frankmusik is surely one of the highlights of 2009. The fervor seems to have died down a bit. But I find myself returning to this album regardless of the column inches dedicated to the likes of LaRoux and Little Boots. It has more layers. It has a story cycle. More meat on the bones. It's not just a collection of songs threaded together by shiny production. I know I'm a little late to the party on reviewing it. Sometimes I believe it's better to live with an album and get deep with it before extolling its virtues.

"Complete Me" is definitely inspired by the keyboard heavy, synth icons that lit the airwaves on fire back in the 80s. Frankmusik takes these touchstones and puts a contemporary spin on them. Barely out of diapers when the DX7 and the Fairlight were essential elements of the pop music soundscape, Vincent Frank didn't come into his own as a songwriter until he wrestled control of his mother's record collection. Later, starting his music career as an in demand human beatbox, Frankmusik was born and a smattering of independent releases followed.

Once in the clutches of Island, his current label, Frankmusik began the usual battery of interviews, photo shoots and live PAs which is typical of moving an artist of his calibre out of the underground.

Testing the waters at the back end of last year, "3 Little Words" was released as the track that would tickle the tastemakers and get the pop pundits drooling. A colorful video for the song, with a little nod toward the Tom Hanks movie, "Big", began to appear to critical acclaim.

The influences are obvious - Howard Jones, Scritti Politti, Nik Kershaw. Play "3 Little Words" and then take a look and listen to "You Know I Love You...Don't You?" by HoJo.

Most of "Complete Me" follows along similar synth laden lines with a strong, singability factor. Each tune is cleverly crafted around the themes of broken hearts and love lost. It's no secret that the songs are earmarked for a certain someone.

The album starts off with the manic, lead track, "In Step", followed by the funky, second single, "Better Of As Two" which barrels along a similar high speed electronic heat.

Third single, "Confusion Girl", is another well written, pop gem with a typically tuneful chorus with shades of Erasure poking through the lovely, uncluttered arrangement. Like many of the songs on "Complete Me", it's an economic affair clocking in a just under three minutes. Oddly, three singles in, the album only managed to peak at #13 a few weeks back. Hopefully, the next single, whatever it ends up being, will push the album forward. Unfortunately, it's unlikely after such a poor performance in the eyes of the greedy music machine.

Darkness descends as understanding turns to jealousy in the sinister sounding "Gotta Boyfriend?" with ominous undertones driven by an urgent, insistent synth bass throughout.

It's clear the album follows the ark of a relationship. As always, jealousy is followed by apologies and forgiveness. It's an age old story and works to great effect as "Your Boy" follows "Gotta Boyfriend?", the former led by tender piano figures and a mournful vocal performance.

The clattering production of "When You're Around", with its verses interpolating the melody from The Stranglers' #2 UK hit from 1981, "Golden Brown", is probably the least inspired track on the album but still manages to fit nicely within the context of the album.

Sidebar... "Golden Brown" was held out of the top spot by "Town Called Malice" by The Jam. That certainly underscores how much the pantheon of pop has crumbled over the last decade or so. At some point, I will get on my soapbox about the decline of the music biz. I have to be in the right frame of mind to put my thoughts and opinions together on the topic, however flawed and unpopular they might be.

Back to Frankmusik. After three singles, if the label decides to invest in a fourth from the album, it should be the jaunty "Wonder Woman", a precautionary tale about overachievers of the female persuasion and the time they should take to pamper themselves. It's another terrific, HoJo inspired number with further flashes of Erasure in its rubbery bass lines.

On the album's title track, the tempo is dialed down a bit for another economical tune which floats in at under three minutes. It builds from a delicate piano intro into a powerful and impassioned chorus. Just when you think Frankmusik can't sing any higher, he showcases his falsetto's falsetto during the song's final crescendo. It's moments like these where the listener can truly feel the inspiration and devastation that can be experienced within the scope of a relationship.

One of the key highlights of "Complete Me" is "Vacant Heart", a song which cleverly incorporates a sample of "Madame Butterfly (Un Bel Di Vedremo)", a #13 UK hit in 1984 by pop impresario, Malcolm McLaren.

"Vacant Heart" should be the single that transitions the album from being a curio treasured by a few dedicated fans to a full-on, pop trailblazer embraced by a broader, more mainstream audience.

More retro influences abound on "Complete Me" with "Time Will Tell", a seriously catchy, herky jerky tune propelled by a sample of the rhythm track from "Pump Up The Volume", a groundbreaking, #1 smash from 1987 by M/A/R/R/S. The song gallops over the sample nicely without ever relying on it or production trickery for its appeal. Certainly another in a strong clutch of single contenders.

The hypnotic, "Done Done" is probably one of the most electro sounding tracks on the album and revisits the darker edges of the relationship chronicled within its sonic story. It gives way to the yearning and haunting "Run Away From Trouble" before slipping into the simplicity of "Olivia", a stripped down, piano ballad. It's a bonus track which, apparently, is an ode to a former flame and is a touching coda to the album.

Overall, Franmusik's debut is stacked to the rafters with towering, pop moments full of bright, shiny optimism tempered with the kind of melancholy that makes the best three minute soap operas. Definitely an album to add to your discerning music collection.

By the way, the British produce the most exciting ads for the pop music they're peddling. I'd run to the nearest shop or computer, whichever flavor you favor, if I saw the commercial for "Complete Me".


  1. I hope you were able to see his NYC live debut last night.he was just as good live as on cd.

  2. You know I agree on Vacant Heart as a single! Jay Z may runt this town, but we should run the label.