Frankmusik / Keane, Brighton Centre, Brighton
Banish memories of the Year It All Went Wrong
Sunday 15 February 2009
Five minutes inland from the Brighton Centre, just up the hill behind the clock tower, there's a nightclub that runs a retro knees-up called It Is Still 1985. It's frequented by irony-ravaged undergrads who weren't even born in that pivotal year.
In musical terms, 1985 was the Year It All Went Wrong. The Live Aid concerts of that summer were the funeral of a six-year-long golden age of pop bookended by Tubeway Army's "Are 'Friends' Electric?" on Top of the Pops in 1979. Just as the defeat of the miners' strike that year heralded the final, terrible triumph of Thatcherism, so Live Aid ushered in an era where the conformists and squares seized control.
It was also the year Frankmusik was born. Except that in those days he was plain Vincent Frank, and his habitat was unglamorous Croydon. He dreamed, we are told, of making "shiny, epic pop records about love and desperation for people to fall in love with". (Wonderfully, his favourite group is the Electric Light Orchestra.) He is the last person who'd feign a love of Golden Age pop out of irony.
Frankmusik first came to minor public attention on last year's Wonky Pop tour. A more accurate banner would have been Autopop, which encapsulates the facets of the movement: non-manufactured, DIY self-determination, and a tendency towards music made from circuits and wires. And while Wonky Pop tourmates Alphabeat exploded exhilaratingly overground, Frankmusik's rise has been more of a slow burn, biding his time and building a reputation as a remixer of everyone from Chromeo to Lady Ga Ga. He's ready now.
He may come from the other end of the A23, but with his wider than usual Mohawk and skinny legs, Vincent Frank is a very Brighton kind of person: you see scores of young guys looking like him rampaging around Kemp Town on a Friday night. And, behind Frankmusik's thunderbolt-slashed logo, he paces the stage like a man born for stardom. Whether strutting goose-necked to front up to his bassist or plinking on his Yamaha, he's a restless live wire.
Frankmusik's songs suggest an equally agile and active mind, from "When You're Around", which audaciously pickpockets The Stranglers' "Golden Brown", through the onomatopoeic "Done Done" to the finale, "Better Off as Two", in which he unleashes a falsetto that's frighteningly effortless. This is pop that's grasping after the glittering prize while others remain gutter-bound.
If it were still 1985, the year of the clampdown, then Frankmusik would only be a Hollywood Beyond or a Belouis Some: a one-hit wonder, piquing the fascination of the few. Headliners Keane's equivalent act would be Simple Minds, halfway up the bill at Live Aid, on a path to becoming monolithically huge. Just listen to the way the lustrously strummed chords of "I Dreamed I Was Drowning" are given a whole bar to reverberate while Richard Hughes marks time with that big, hollow beat. It's "Alive and Kicking" from beyond the grave.
There are, then, countless reasons to dislike Tim Nice-But-Dim, Tom Jollygood-Chapp and the Other One, a band who, if they were being culturally honest about their origins, would have called themselves Dallaglio. A band whose records are Tesco Rock, and are tailor-made for car commercials. A band whose lead singer's perky positivity is so extreme he makes Kriss Akabusi look like Marvin the Paranoid Android. A band whose crowd is so oppressively straight that even averting your gaze to the floor doesn't help. (You can still see the Ugg boots and Timberlands.)
But you only need one reason to like them, and I have one. There's an irresistible romantic sweep to Keane's music that uplifts even if you didn't think you wanted uplifting. They almost lost it with their dirge-filled second album, Under the Iron Sea, but they regained it in style with the poptastic third effort, Perfect Symmetry, which, along with their twinkling debut Hopes and Fears, dominates a show which, as the Battle boys acknowledge, is "the closest we ever get to a home-town gig".
"Everybody's Changing" and "Somewhere Only We Know" stand out from their debut, and the "Ashes to Ashes"-inspired "Better Than This" from their latest, but there's one song that blows the rest away. From its first euphoric "whooh!" and its very first synth fanfare, "Spiralling" is everything great pop should be (and, incidentally, not a million miles from Frankmusik).
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