Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Frazier Chorus "Sue" (1989)

1. Dream Kitchen
2. Storm
3. Forty Winks
4. Ha-Ha-Happiness
5. Sloppy Heart
6. Living Room
7. Sugar High
8. Forgetful
9. Typical!
10. Ski-Head
11. Little Chef

This might be the most criminally underrated album I own. Seriously, if you ever find this in a second hand shop, on vinyl or CD, buy it. They were formed by vocalist Tim Freeman (brother of Martin Freeman, the actor who played Tim in The Office. And if that sentence sounds ambiguous that's ok - some people say he based the character on his elder brother), the woodwind playing Kate Holmes, Chris Taplin and Michelle Allardyce. Frazier Chorus's story really begins when an early version of "Sloppy Heart" falls into the hands of 4AD and is a minor indie hit. Then the band leave that label and sign to Virgin, releasing their debut LP "Sue" in 1989. Their second album was called "Ray", incidentally. I like to think the albums were given christian names but actually I think it's more likely the title "Sue" refers to litigation - there is a line on the album that goes "they say you're itching to sue..." - which would fit in with the band's darker side.

The most noticeable thing about Frazier Chorus on first listen is undoubtedly Freeman's whispery voice. Then there's the clarinet, oboe, flute and plucked violin strings. All of this is going on over gentle synth-pop. It's clear that the chief lyrical pre-occupation here is with domesticity. Most of the songs seem to be set in a sort of suburban middle-class hell. "Dream Kitchen" which was almost a hit in 1989 is full of this imagery, mention of the kitchen sink, tea and the phrase "this stuff's so kind to my hands, I'm never gonna change to a different brand". Dark humour abounds, sometimes it's laugh-out-loud funny: the aforementioned single contains the bitter line "Your life's too good to be true/ I think I'll ruin it for you", and it's just sung in a ridiculously chirpy way. Later, the opening lines of "Forgetful" go: "I just saw your friend and he told me to forget your haircut and forget your shoes/ He told me all the things I ought to forget and I forgot them all, except for you". It cracks me up every time, because the music behind it is so downbeat. Then I remember how sour the lyrics can be; when they're not all to do with revenge, infidelity and jealousy, they're about self-harm or wanking ("Sloppy Heart") or refer to dead dogs ("Ski-Head"). You won't be surprised to hear that "Dream Kitchen"'s b-side, "Down", was about oral sex.

An album with lyrics like that has no right to be so damn pretty. Frazier Chorus never quite matched it again, although their 1990 single "Cloud 8", which was produced by (Lightning Seed) Ian Broudie, is rather good. They hemorrhaged a member with each album until by 1996, Tim Freeman was using the Frazier Chorus handle to put out what was really solo material. Chris Taplin formed Espiritu who had a couple of decent singles in the mid 1990s on Heavenly. Kate Holmes is now a member of Client along with Sarah Blackwood (ex-Dubstar).