Aztec Camera – Stray

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I remember hearing “The Crying Scene” on WXRT while working in my father’s office one summer and then learning that it was Aztec Camera and excitedly thinking, “they’re back!” And while that ended up not being accurate, it was close enough. I recently threw out all my old concert ticket stubs (which I regret – they could have formed the basis of a project similar to this one; my solipsism knows no bounds). I came across one for Aztec Camera at the 9:30 Club. Reader, I have no memory of this show. I remember something about every other concert I’ve ever been to, and this one was a show I was undoubtedly looking forward to. But this ticket stub was a shock and mystery to me. Anyway, Stray is worth owning.

What I Think of This Album

This is a difficult album to describe, other than as “the second-best Aztec Camera album.” There are more guitar-heavy rockers here than on any other of Frame’s albums (though at some point, I learned my lesson and just stopped buying them, so maybe I am wrong), but it is far from a rockin’ platter. And that’s because there is also a lot of light jazz, two R&B numbers, and the acoustic closer; this album is all over the place.

The title track is a quiet, slow, piano-based ballad that would not be out of place in, well, a piano bar. “The Crying Scene” is the radio single:  a power-poppy bopper with sparkly keyboard parts, a distorted guitar sound, and oddly life-affirming lyrics. On this and “Get Outta London,” as well as the other faster numbers, Frame sings with more gusto and grit than on all of High Land, Hard Rain combined. “Get Outta London,” by the way, has a well-placed snare hit that I super-appreciate, and is almost my favorite thing on this album. “Over My Head” is guitar-based jazz, this time, and honestly not my cup of tea. “Good Morning Britain” is a collaboration with Mick Jones (of the Clash, not Foreigner) and it’s bizarre and fun (the sequencer line checking both boxes simultaneously) and I don’t know what the hell it’s about, but it also seems to be promoting positivity and new beginnings.

“How It Is” is another rocker – more blues-based this time – and how it is is good enough, with a Van Halen-ish solo, of all things. “The Gentle Kind” is the Scottish R&B you didn’t ask for, and “Notting Hill Blues” is the same thing except, you know, more bluesy (and ickier – “hold me and really make love to me” – um, no). But these are the price you pay for the caring, heartfelt “Song for a Friend,” which is exactly that – a gentle and stunning show of support and concern for a fellow human.

Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice is credited as an additional musician on this album, and it would’ve been nice to have known exactly what he did on which song.

The Best Thing About This Album

In a better world, everyone going through a difficult time would have received a mixtape from a friend with “Song for a Friend” on it.

Release Date

July, 1990

The Cover Art

This cover is garbage. Nothing about it is good, though I guess I like the green of the background (this image does not actually have the correct shade, which is darker).

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