Quirky Meets ’80s
Hearing ’80s mechanical synths a week after a Stranger Things Season Two binge could feel tired, but the opening notes of Frankie Rose’s “A Reflection” are then joined by piano reminiscent of “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears, and the contrast is enough to set it apart from the current synth behemoth. As the opener continues, the wistfulness creeps in, with spacey chords and tons of reverb; Tears For Fears turns into Pink Floyd easily. The listener ends up reflecting on a lot of retro aesthetic ideas not necessarily always thought of together. It’s a subtle intrigue, but one that weaves in and out of much of Frankie Rose’s Seventeen Seconds, a song-for-song cover of The Cure album of the same name — an album cover, if you will. It leaves one surprised that this sort of practice is not more common. Especially in the era of remakes and reboots, Rose is breaking new ground.
After “A Reflection,” one of the last things that the listener would expect is more of the currently trendy Wild Nothing, or The 1975 slick guitar sound on “Play For Today.” It’s a bit of an on-the-nose take on retro that everyone is doing right now instead of the interesting themes of dichotomy that the previous song introduces, but the last thirty seconds veer into quizzical chord changes that give Rose some personality. That sort of suspicious melodic quality is a strength of hers, but after “Secrets” and “In Your House” seem to prove her content with staying cutesy at a very specific walking tempo, one is left wishing for some more punch with her statements of quirkiness. Compared to the original songs, it’s an interesting idea, but the originals are not known for their high energy. One would be interested to know the reason for this albums specifically, but the drums on “Three” prove that Rose knows what’s hot right now. Those ’80s gated reverb drums are recognizable from a mile away. There are obvious strengths among those spacey Pink Floyd wandering synth wails. But the real moment where Seventeen Seconds speaks for itself is during “M”.
There’s a difference between the guitar on “M” and the guitar on “Play For Today.” Where “Play For Today” is well-executed retro, the “M” guitars have a flange-y grunge sound to them that brings up a reference in the listener’s mind that they really weren’t expecting. And then it combines with the same Tears For Fears pianos and an electronic drum. Rose keeps the statement of uniqueness from common references going with a more interesting synth roar backtrack on “At Night.”
There’s a certain flair for drama here and in other songs on the album that prove Frankie Rose’s real talent at recreating ’80s goth drama in her songwriting. It’s fitting, as the album title song ends the covers. That song shares a lot of the simplicity that Rose displays throughout her album. It makes complete sense to further the revisiting trends of late, as retroism is gaining a more nuanced execution. This execution in particular could be a bit more exciting, but the novel precedent it sets speaks for itself.
A lot of the album feels like Rose working through what references to that type of ’80s music works and doesn’t. Bits and pieces of The Cure’s production appear all over the album, thrown against modern sounds and seeing what sticks. And at the end of the day, that’s the philosophy that really made ’80s music so successful. Just maybe more of that flair for drama from Frankie Rose will be heard in the future.