The Bevis Frond Just Want to Be Your Friend, Man
The songs have a sunny playful spirit even when a song's topic suggests serious contemplation. This is the sound of one hand clapping, and who knows what's happening with the other hand!
We're Your Friends, Man
The Bevis Frond
7 December 2018
For over 30 years, Nick Saloman's the Bevis Frond have been cranking out crunchy, electric guitar-based, alternative-style rock. Times and styles may have changed, but the new album We're Your Friends, Man harkens back to the time when a heart-pounding lick and a line could create euphoria—or at least an approximation of Nirvana. There are echoes and homages (both instrumental and lyrical) to R.E.M., Neil Young, and others from the original alt-rock era to show the Bevis Frond changed by never changing. The amazing thing is just how good this music is. This is no retro fest or in-joke. The Frond kick butt on their new album with 90 minutes worth of solid songwriting and playing. The music's great.
Saloman himself sounds confused and amused by the whole thing, not believing his good fortune. He jokingly opens the disc with the charming "Enjoy", complete with self-deprecating modesty and feedback-fuzzy guitar solos. The band's current line up features Saloman on vocals and guitar with a hard rocking trio (bassist Ade Shaw, guitarist Paul Simmons, drummer Dave Pearce) who don't play behind him as much as propel him forward. You can tell Saloman relishes the challenge and throws it right back so that at times they seem to be racing towards that magical spot where the speed and volume of rock transmute the proceedings into some kind of transcendental consciousness.
There are several acoustic-based songs that address the topic of what does it all mean as well as the electric ones which demonstrate the subject. Saloman addresses the listener directly as a close friend, from whom who doesn't want to have secrets. He knows he's not always honest with himself, but he's trying to be. After 22 albums, he appreciates the fact that he has fans who want to hear still more of him, and while he is growing older—he's still relatively healthy. On "Venom Drain" he recognizes that now is the time to plan his travels to places he's never been before "life unravels". The prospects of being mortal are bleak and inevitable, but he's feeling okay today. He's not so much satisfied as surprised by his lucky circumstances.
Several of the best songs on We're Your Friends, Man such as the title track offer smart insights into the bittersweet human condition. Saloman can't help but question what it means to trust oneself and others; our own physical senses and the thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere but are just as real. What are the connections between the artist and his audience? The word "man" itself carries the weight of ambiguity. The implication is that we have to trust each other but that we really never know each other. And as he points out on "Pheromones", there are things that trigger our feelings ("chemical phantoms") that we are often unaware of but dramatically impact us literally and metaphorically. It's not an evil plot. It's life and life only—and that includes having an active mind and memory as well as a corporal entity.
However, this pontification overlooks the main thing about the new record which is that it is so much fun to hear. Saloman and company are certainly happy to have found a groove. The songs have a sunny playful spirit even when a song's topic suggests serious contemplation. It can be a little goofy. This is the sound of one hand clapping. The other one is bending the strings of the guitar. The third hand is banging on the drums and dropping bass lines. Or is that the third eye? And just where is the voice coming from? Life is a mystery! Ain't it sublime.