Fred Frith
Cheap At Half The Price

(Fred Records/ReR)

Something I'll never forget about the original vinyl release of Fred Frith's Cheap At Half The Price (1983) is the outrageous amount of money I had to fork in order to buy it - which was quite paradoxical, given its title. Ronald Reagan's first term, of course, and the American Dollar at an all-time high. The former Side One of the album - short songs sporting politically-aware lyrics - appears to maintain traces of that period.

Cheap At Half The Price was Fred Frith's third "American" solo album, after the recently re-released Gravity (1980) and Speechless ('81). (We already know about his UK-based career, from Henry Cow to Art Bears, right?) I'm very pleased to say that Cheap At Half The Price has aged quite well - maybe at the time it sounded a bit too DIY? - those of its pages that appear in the live almost-anthology of the group Keep The Dog (check the album of the same name, released in 2003) don't suffer from being so close to more ambitious material.

While the mostly instrumental tracks of former Side Two sound like a bridge between his past and his future, the songs on former Side One anticipate his approach to the song form in Skeleton Crew - check their albums Learn To Talk (1985) and The Country Of Blinds ('86). Frith plays his usual guitar, violin, bass, xylophone, plus vocals, a cheap Casio and some home-mades. Friends and colleagues contributed "generic drums examples" - before the fact. While Frith fans won't need any encouragement from my part, I'd be curious to know the opinion of fans of "modern rock" about a record presenting "an accomplished musician"'s look at "simple material".

I have to confess I never listened to the previous CD re-release of this album. After listening to it side-by-side with its original vinyl counterpart I have to confess I liked the vinyl a bit more, its sound having a spaciousness and a quite gracefulness that I still find appealing. The new, remixed, version has tons more level, but it's maybe too punchy for its own good.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2005 | April 12, 2005