I’m of the opinion that music reviewers should admit to whatever biases they have against any genre or subgenre when it’s relevant. Ideally, the reviewer is an objective presence within the review, but more realistically, the reviewer has developed a lifetime’s worth of opinions and pet peeves that will assuredly color his work. With that in mind, I find it necessary to admit that the sort of icy, drum machine-heavy, synth-pop that Frank (Just Frank) favor is not really my cup of tea. It’s not that I always have a problem with the music, as this would mean I would have to discount The Cure and Joy Division. It’s really a matter of taking issue with the general image this type of musician tends to present. I’ve encountered a lot of people in bands like these and the sourpuss image they present in their press photos and live shows has been, in my experience, carefully cultivated in their personal lives. Look at this picture and you’ll know what I’m talking about. To put it succinctly, it’s off-putting, and while I haven’t met either of the two members of Frank (Just Frank), it’s a prejudice that I haven’t been able to shake. Fair or not, that’s the way I feel.
The list of bands from which Frank (Just Frank) liberally borrows is extensive, and nearly every band on the list reached their height of popularity in the ’80s. To their credit though, Frank (Just Frank) don’t just stick to the usual dour influences from that era. The guitars on their debut album, The Brutal Wave, are jangly and bright in a way that will be familiar to fans of early R.E.M, and the heavy, plainspoken baritone owes more to the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt than Ian Curtis.
While The Brutal Wave initially seems to be a morose affair, heavy on chilly, brooding attitude and light on unequivocal fun, Frank (Just Frank) do manage to pull off a surprising amount of universally enjoyable pop. “Mr Itagaki” and “Coeur Hante” may share a tempo and chiming guitar patterns, but they are both welcome doses of sprightly new wave that offer the listener a brief respite from the general rule of gloom. Actually, even when Frank (Just Frank) stick to macabre atmospherics, The Brutal Wave is almost always interested in making the listener dance.
Yet, with the exception of the aforementioned comparatively sunnier tracks, The Brutal Wave strictly adheres to its aesthetic leaving little room for variety. There are no real bum tracks, but that’s because most of the songs are difficult to distinguish from each other. The same shadowy, echoing drums and gothic vocals show up on virtually every track. It’s hardly a problem for a band to have a consistent artistic vision, but the instrumentation and melodies do not show much range. Frank (Just Frank) deserve credit for occasionally trying to break out of the narrow field of options that their genre offers, but they too often rely on safe arrangements, and it’s made all the more disappointing by the glimmers of promise that permeate The Brutal Wave.