In a similar fashion to what U.K. band Childhood did on their most recent album, American singer Frankie Rose has looked to the Eighties and earlier for some inspiration for her new record. Called Cage Tropical, the new long-player, out Friday on Slumberland Records, is full of wildly-lyrical New Wave numbers that immediately charmed this listener. If there are pieces here that are traces of past alt-rock styles mixed with other familiar genre elements, the presentation, and the big tunes, make up Rose's best solo release yet, and one that should be wildly accessible to new fans who didn't follow her in Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Stilts, or Beverly, or elsewhere.
While opener "Love In Rockets" offers a play-on-words that references a certain band (and comic), it sounds more like classic-era Psychedelic Furs, even as the buoyant "Dyson Sphere" uses washes of keyboards to even greater effect, building on the sort of material Frankie has been releasing in the last handful of years. For every track here, like "Trouble", that is nothing but bouncy and bright electro-pop, there's at least another, like "Dancing Down The Hall", that is more expansive and spacious, a kind of stately take on both mid-period Altered Images and early Cranes, for lack of any easier comparisons. Some of this (the title cut, "Game To Play") seems to be the kind of music that would sit nicely next to stuff from the last solo record from Rose Elinor Dougall, the former Vivian Girl seemingly on a similar wavelength to that of the one-time Pipette, but there remain touches here that indicate that Frankie may be interested in exploring riskier material with Cage Tropical. One listen to the closer, "Decontrol", and one can hear both echoes of those Nineties Cocteau Twins albums, and a few faint passes at earlier indie stuff from these shores (those more ambient moments on Unrest or Air Miami releases stretched to a new breaking point, for instance). And on the rippling "Red Museum" there's a deftness of touch that suggests the kind of indie-pop approach favored by Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine on their first offerings even if the instrumentation here on Cage Tropical is more adventurous and lush, more Factory Records than American C86, for example.
Still, for all my talk of so many worthy comparison points, Frankie Rose has, in some ways, released her best, most unique record here. Wonderfully tuneful, and full of sleek bits of instrumental glory, Cage Tropical is a fine distillation of all the things that make solo releases from Frankie Rose so treasured. When the chorus breaks in "Art Bell", for example, a listener should get chills and feel a sense of liberation. As the song opens up, it's abundantly clear that on this tune, and so many here, Frankie Rose is bringing something new to these New Wave styles, her embrace of them a method to master them and transcend them, and deliver new listeners and old fans a new kind of American indie.
If I sound like I'm gushing about this one that's 'cause Cage Tropical by Frankie Rose is a record worth gushing about. It's the very rare album that, like that Childhood one that I referenced earlier, hits a lot of familiar buttons in a new way and pleases a listener over and over again. Play it once and you'll want to play it again immediately, I am sure of that.
[Photos: Uncredited promotional images]