It has been eight years since the former Aztec Camera frontman’s previous solo album, 2006′s terrific Western Skies. Seven Dials, recorded at the London studio of Frame’s longtime compadre Edwyn Collins, begins with something of a feint. Frame sidles into the opening track, “White Pony,” equipped with just his voice and an acoustic guitar, evoking 2002′s minimalist, home-recorded Surf, still arguably his finest album. However, he is joined shortly before the first typically sumptuous chorus by a full band, who are made to earn their money thereafter: Seven Dials as a whole resembles nothing so much as Frame revisiting past masterworks, wondering if they could be usefully touched up here and there.
As “White Pony” could have appeared on Aztec Camera’s last album, Frestonia, so the acoustic finale “From a Train” isn’t miles away from “Down the Dip,” which closed Aztec Camera’s immortal debut, High Land Hard Rain. “Postcard” has the fat Philadelphia soul sound of Aztec Camera’s Love and a guitar solo echoing the one-note riff which introduced the equivalent flourish on Aztec Camera’s “Oblivious.” “On The Waves” channels the exuberance of “Somewhere in My Heart,” and “Rear View Mirror” assays a similar flamenco shimmy to “Spanish Horses.”
None of which should be read as any suggestion that Frame is at all becalmed: merely that he remains a genre unto himself, an unreconstructed guitar hero trapped in the body of a consumptive romantic poet. Furthermore, the big-hearted single, “Forty Days of Rain,” suggests that a full-blown country album may be next, and would be splendid.