Nick Frater: EarwormsNick Frater: Earworms – Album Review

(Big Stir)

CD/DL

Released 19 November 2021

Singer/songwriter Nick Frater releases his sixth album, the follow up to his 2020 LP Fast & Loose. The 10 brand new tracks include the recent single It’s All Rumours and the guests helping Nick out number Dana Countryman, Nick Bertling and Roger Joseph Manning Jnr among others. The latter has performed with The Lemonheads and Beck. Ian Canty can’t get the first tune he heard today out of his tiny mind…

It is good to see Croydon’s own Nick Frater back with a new record, only a year after Fast & Loose (reviewed here). The press release mentions (gulp) Breakfast In America and while from his own words it appears that Nick does aim at the pop/rock scene of around the mid to late 1970s, for me his work here also recalls Elvis Costello circa Trust/Imperial Bedroom. I think there is a similar painstaking eye for detail applied to the ornate musical backing. Whilst the songs here are perhaps not quite as pointed as Costello’s, Nick possesses has a sharpness and perceptiveness all of his own.

On this new record as well as singing he plays a variety of instruments and is also joined by a stellar crew of helpers. They were forced to make their contributions from afar because of the pandemic and Nick then put the whole thing together at his home base. He’s obviously a dab hand at assembling sound in the studio, as Earworms attests to. The album never seems like the piecemeal construction that was unfortunately necessary.

Earworms gets off on the right foot with the “bells a blazing” intro of the recent and very catchy single It’s All Rumours. It really is an invigorating way to start a record, with a spikey guitar underpinning the easy groove of the tune right the way up to a peach of a chorus. This is simply classy pop music that would measure up in any era. Glistening into earshot with another prime guitar line, Buggin’ Out uses some great backing vocals from Darian Sahanaja to achieve a marvellous overall effect. The lyric seems to be an apt reminder that the most important thing about life is that it is to be enjoyed.

What’s With Your Heavy Heart? follows with a jolly mid-pace drive and the words “love is only waiting to fall apart” is just one line that jumps out. This is such a great and well-written song, acutely depicting the damage emotions can inflict on one in a manner that just rings true. A strings effect gives way to a keyboard wobble on the heavenly-voiced of Lucky Strike, with the excellent backing vocals here coming courtesy of Dana Countryman.

To make sure things don’t get too cosy, a fuzzy guitar and strident percussion pattern keeps it fresh and then Star-Crossed provides a chilled-out, laidback tingle. This is a sensitive, alluring ballad that trips along attractively, with finger clicks, harmonies and an electric piano being brought into play. If “helps to pass the time” points to the workaday that is often the reality of long-term human relationships and star-crossed itself suggested certain helplessness, Nick’s reading of a situation riddled with uncertainty is masterful and not without hope.

After the downbeat nature of Star-Crossed, Not Born Again bursts in with loud guitars then adds up to a fine example of modern pop psychedelia with energy to burn. Then Desert Ships’ staccato beat overlays a song that hints obliquely at life’s frustration and dreams. The Unbroken, a finely drawn, piano-led introspective item, follows on and grants the listener time to draw breath and reflect.

Who Says I Need A Plan At All? is the second and final “question” song on Earworms and bridles with defiance. Of course, this burning passion is conducted in Nick’s typically unassuming and thoughtful way though, building right up to an epic climax. The last offering of the LP, How To Survive Somebody, takes things right down to just piano and voice. When the band do come in, it is to maximum effect and the bells on this track also take us right back to the album’s beginning.

On Earworms, Nick Frater has created another collection that demonstrates his enviable talents as a songwriter, musician and arranger time and again. This is a thoroughly appealing selection from someone who is quietly establishing himself as one of our most imaginative, perceptive and satisfying pop music practitioners. If you haven’t yet caught up with his very accessible but idiosyncratic and charming blend, now is as good a time as any to begin. Earworms is packed with great tunes and songs that captivated me from the first listen and firmly embedded themselves by the second. Nick Frater is, on this evidence, simply an expert in his field.

Nick Frater is on Facebook here and his website is here.

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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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