As mentioned recently, Vinyl Connection was delighted to have a chance to meet and greet the latest Bevis Frond album. We’re Your Friends, Man was released late in 2018 and is a genuine old-fashioned double album containing 20 slabs of fresh Frondness spread across two CDs or four sides of vinyl.
For those not familiar with the band, songwriter/guitarist Nick Saloman has been following his independent muse for about half a century, a truly impressive innings that has produced around two dozen albums (since the late 80s) and a songbook so thick you could use it as a doorstop. You might wonder what else there is to say and play, and fair enough too; plenty of artists grind out the same old same old year after year. But in We’re Your Friends, Man, we find a combination of energy and insight that suggests Nick Saloman is not going gently into that good night. Except perhaps he is. That’s the wistful enigma of Bevis Frond. The band thrums with a ragged glory and electric surge that pulls energy up from the earth (circa 1969), while the lyrics are that rare thing: words worth reading and ideas worthy of sitting with.
It would be fair to say that the opening song, “Enjoy”, encapsulates all I love about Nick Saloman’s songwriting. It explodes out of the speakers with a crunchy guitar sound and a punk energy that belies the veteran status of the protagonists. But it’s in the lyrics that he shines. How many writers of any age would offer this verse in their opening salvo?
It doesn’t begin to justify the time it took
I’m not even sure it’s worthy of a second look
I wanted to make the masterpiece you waited for
But maybe I just can’t do it any more
You want entitled strutting and rampant ego? Wrong place mate. Yet this band powers on, guitars swirl and swerve, counterbalancing the humble offering of this diffident master.
Contrast is a vital feature of a Bevis Frond album. The frayed squall of the neo-psychedelic instrumental sections is balanced by acoustic reverie and the mournful tones of Saloman’s voice. The title track, “We’re Your Friends, Man” illustrates this beautifully, as does the touching mortality of “Little Orchestras”. I particularly love the acquiescent “Venom Drain”; insightful, wry, superb chorus.
So many good songs here. “Lead on” is a straight ahead rocker that brilliantly appropriates the second phrase of the Big Ben chime for an absolutely top-notch intro and chorus that will have you singing along on the second spin. AND there’s an extended guitar wig-out too. Twenty-three albums and the man can produce this ripper? And doubts himself in the first paragraph? Shaking my head in disbelief, I shake his hand.
It is tempting to trawl through the whole opus highlighting the, er, highlights, but suffice to say that this is a consistently excellent and well-crafted album from a world-weary yet meticulous craftsman. It says something about the catalogue that you could pick any one of a dozen Bevis Frond albums as great places to start (or resume) a Frond adventure, but I can state with confidence that We’re Your Friends, Man, Saloman’s ‘twenty somethingth swingin’ disc’, is as good as any. And after thirty years of recording, that’s praise indeed.
Nick Saloman was kind enough to renew a dialogue with Vinyl Connection which began here in 2015.
The companion post to this review is a new interview that covers songwriting, favourite children, genius and Jimi Hendrix. Lead on…