If you were conscious in the early ’70s, you will remember Humble Pie, a British blues / rock band that could have rivalled the Rolling Stones but somehow didn’t. Whether that was because Peter Frampton, co-founder with ex-Small Faces Steve Marriott, left, is one of those unanswered questions.
Certainly he had the talent as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter – he’s one of only three artists to sell out the Philadelphia JFK Stadium, which holds 110,000 people (the other two acts are Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones). And he hasn’t exactly been idle in recent decades, playing on albums by David Bowie, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Bill Wyman and George Harrison, as well as on Bowie’s Glass Spider tour in 1987.
“Now,” says Frampton, is “me doing what I want to do, for the first time in nine years.” And what he does best is play very, very good guitar. What he doesn’t do so well is write ballads, which makes this album a tad uneven in its appeal.
Opening track Verge Of A thing is a good basic stomp-along rock song with the first of many fabulous guitar riffs as its centrepiece. Those of a certain age will feel immediately comfortable – you can almost hear the cries of, “Here are some musicians who really know what they’re doing”… Flying Without Wings – my standout track of the album – is a jazzy, swing-blues-fuelled number with distinctly retro organ and, you guessed it, a brilliant guitar break.
Then we hit the first of the ballads, starting off acoustic and then turning rockier, with Frampton’s voice sounding like Steve Winwood. Actually this one’s good, and Not Forgotten, (though I forgot it pretty quickly) is pleasant, with lyrical acoustic passages. Mia Rose is a simple love ballad that also hits the spot, though the lyrics start to grate and the clich� detector quietly clicks to attention with, “Like a flower you unfold / You are my angel, Mia Rose…”
The red alert sounds on Above It All (“It’s me and you chasing sunshine until tomorrow”) and the machine blows up on the final track, How Long Is Forever (“Love is a place where we go to be free / Free is the only way to be / Now that we’re here / Watching the years disappear / How long is forever…”). Yuk. When you set those words to a rather trite tune the result is disastrous. I’ll draw a veil over I’m Back, with its chorus of “Like Schwarzenegger in Terminator I’m back…” I do hope it’s meant to be funny.
It’s a shame because there are some real gems lurking here. No Going Back and Cleveland are pacy Eagles style toe-tappers, Greens is a wonderfully atmospheric instrumental (gorgeous guitars, of course) that has a mellow, contemplative, soft jazz feel. Hour Of Need is another standout song with a sinister tune and some great lyrics which prove that Frampton can still write them: “I need an angel like I need a fix / Something to hit me like a ton of bricks.” And the guitar break on this track is phenomenal – it could almost be Eric Clapton. Turn this track up to 11…
These tracks remind us why we loved the ’70s, and there’s another nod to that era in the sitar intro to I Need Ground, though that retro feel isn’t really sustained and the track loses focus. The final treat is Frampton’s fantastic cover of his close friend George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
I hope this album does well, because if you ignore the duff tracks the rest is splendid. Oldies can relive their glory days with some new music and young bloods will hear something to their advantage, if they care to listen.