When it came to my attention that I’d be reviewing a “Best of” The Frank and Walters, I admit I did find it hard to stifle my laughter. As I waited for what I presumed would be a one-sided seven inch to drop through my door, I cast my mind back to the heady days of the early nineties, when the Cork-based band first burst onto the indie scene in a riot of bright clothes, dodgy haircuts and songs about jumpers.
Ahhh… the early ’90s. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was heaven! Before the double whammy of grunge and Brit-pop came along to drag the indie world out of the shadows and firmly into the commercial limelight, it was still possible for bands to spend years crafting beautiful pop songs that would sell a few thousand copies without the pressure to churn out commercial hit after hit. No one needed expensive videos, and you were more likely to catch your favourite acts downing bottles of Strongbow in the park than sipping Seabreezes with supermodels at the Met Bar. It was the golden age of indie music.
It was into this fiercely independent scene that The Frank and Walters came through in. Their day-glo image and the novelty of being an Irish act quickly garnered them attention from the weekly rock papers, but after their brief explosion, things went quiet, the indie papers moved on elsewhere for their kicks, and although the odd favourable review would turn up form time to time, to all intents of purposes the Frank and Walters dropped off the musical radar.
Too quirky, too indie, too different to capitalise on the indie boom of the mid-’90s, as Radio 1 turned into the student’s favourite radio station, and every chancer with a dodgy haircut and copy of Revolver was being snapped by desperate record company executives, worried about missing the next Blur or Oasis. The Frank and Walters were bypassed by London’s musical establishment, but carried on releasing album after album to quiet acclaim.
So here ten years, and four albums into their career, we have the best of The Frank and Walters, no one sided seven inch, but a thirteen track CD packed, to my delight, with some of the most perfect pop music I’ve had the good fortune to come across.
From album opener Colours which sounds like all the best summers you’ve ever had rolled into three minutes, on through the uplifting This Is Not A Song, the elegiac and tear stained How Can I Exist, the ethereal New York, the pure pop of After All and onto the throbbing indie disco work-out of Underground, every song is just perfect, packed with more truly heartfelt emotion than bands like Oasis have managed in a career, yet always avoiding sounding pompous or overblown.
No album I’ve listened to this year has made me feel quite so good. Maybe it’s just misty-eyed nostalgia from someone looking back at some hazy utopian youth, but even had I not spent my formative years covering my bedroom with cut-outs from rock magazines and dreaming of (minor) indie stardom, then I’m sure I would still love this album. There’s just no reason not to love it. It’s that good.
Whilst on the basis of this album I couldn’t refuse The Frank and Walters any of pop’s rich rewards, all of which they truly deserve, a part of me is glad that they’ve been allowed to carry on unfettered by the pressures and trials of chart success, especially if they continue to turn out albums of this quality. Now you’ll have to excuse me, as I’m off to lie in a dark room with How Can I Exist on repeat.