To the uninitiated, Irish "big music" balladeers The Frames can sound like any other Euro-rock act on the Coldplay/Keane front, but to fans, Glen Hansard's band has perfected the art of lilting melodies, earnest sentiments, and quiet-loud-quiet dynamics. A better point of reference for The Frames might be Jackson Browne's early albums, where catchy choruses and hooky riffs took a backseat to rambling, musically textured dissections of modern romance. The Frames' latest album, The Cost, contains only a handful of tracks like "Sad Songs," where the guitar springs along and the tempo stays steady, building to the hummable refrain "Too many sad words / make for sad, sad songs." More typical is the title track, a noir-ish doom ballad in the Richard Thompson vein, designed to leave listeners stunned and morose.
The persistent problem with The Frames is that as a lyricist, Hansard isn't in the same league as Browne or Thompson, and when coupled with music that meanders around the atmosphere, songs like "The Side You Never Get To See"—"the part I keep from everyone," Hansard adds, unhelpfully—can seem vapid and vacant. But those blank spots are balanced by the likes of "Song For Someone," where a slow R&B simmer boils over into cacophony, barely contained by a net of violins. The ostentatious moments distinguish bands like The Frames. Fans wait for the times, as in "People Get Ready," when the dramatic music works as a fanfare, introducing the line, "We have all the time in the world to get it right"—which, in such a grand context, rings like truth.