Nick Frater - Croydon's finest power-pop songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, has released his seventh album on Big Stir Records. The album features numerous stalwarts of the genre and was partly recorded at Abbey Road's Studio Two. From the cover itself - the interior artwork includes the immortal phrase "You can check out any time you like!" - it's clear what musical style we might expect, Americana combined with spiky but humourous lyrics, Costello-esque and quirky. The Aerodrome Motel of the title is an abandoned one at Croydon, once the UK's main airport. Wikipedia joyfully says that in 1930 Amy Johnson became "The first woman to fly from Croydon to Australia": possibly the only one, in fact. The title track tells the tale of a place where "backstory blurs into unknown times". The lovely chorus has the singer dreaming about the motel in its better days, a "home from home with a wave machine".
Opening track The Pleasure is Mine begins with electric piano and vibraphone, settling into a tightly performed song about taking ownership of your life - with occasionally surprising textures and changes. Love Heist wears more of the album's influence's on its sleeve - check the staccato piano in the bridge straight from Supertramp - tied to a massively mixed but comic metaphor about being tied up in the back of a car. Sugary as the stomp of Stuck in My Ways is, the lyric addresses male mental health and substance abuse, "Need a little something just to get through the day, Feel a little nothing today". No Hard Feelings describes a collapsing relationship with a guitar from a Western soundtrack and cinematic synth strings, a study of fragility.
Rough & Tumble is a driving pub rock song, based on graffiti found in a toilet - "Milf seeks BBC for rough & tumble" - and describes a judge who "needs the pleasure of the gavel to fall". It also tells us to beware a "meserole", which Urban Dictionary informs us is a loud and violent family or group of people: Frater has a gift for using unlikely words and combinations. Dear Modern Times is a highly Beatles-esque polemic about the disagreement and lack of civil debate we witness in political spheres: "It seems to me too many fuckwits on the tv / Polarised to pay no mind". Frater has always been interested in unusual lyrical subjects, for instance Dancing with a Gertrude is about names that are on their way to dying out, judging by their recorded use at christenings, "Have you spelled Belle out in semaphore?", "Was a Gary born this side of the century , I wonder", with a particularly catchy chorus that ironically won't be forgotten. American Expressways is a tender ballad about returning soldiers from the Afghanistan war. White Courtesy Telephone is a waltz, which tells the tale of a character who waits at transit zones, airports and trains, using these liminal spaces to vicariously live the more active lives of those passing through, longingly waiting for a call or visit from a friend that may not exist. This builds to an emotional and cathartic climax and then dies down "into the night again".
Frater is excellent at giving us lyrical sketches of his characters, and at combining clever and funny lyrics with astute emotional observations, combined with power pop drawing from both American and British bands of the 70s and 80s, while modern in outlook and demonstrating superb musicianship. A must-listen if you have any interest in the power-pop and AOR genres of those eras.