Frog – Kind of Blah (Audio Antihero)
Oh, god. Help me, words. Help me convey what a blessing Frog is.
The moment the guitars trickle in on “All Dogs to Heaven”, I am transported. The warm twang that rings throughout the LP sounds woody, tangible, distinctly not modern. I think about “Ventura Highway”, and I try to remember when that sandy southwestern air still sparked my imagination, and all those stories about cowboys singing lullabies and horses with no names and lives in the fast lane still flashed in my head. Frog are none of those things – rather, in Kind of Blah, we see the city, and the people who live there, and the events that touch their lives.
But can we get back to the SOUND, this gorgeous warped floorboard SOUND – the warbly ancient piano, banjos both tame and wooly, synths that hum and glimmer gently like the old yellowy lamp by your bed. And of course the voices. The harmony. The aching, the joy, the wobbly keel.
And I’m thinking about you, “Catchyalater”, and how every time I come to you, I have to pick you up again. Something about those “oooohs”. Something about the piano dying at the end. Something about “would you like a Diet Coke, I’m buyin / and if you say you don’t, I know you’re lyin”, or “And I see you from the kitchen window / wanna call you, I just play Nintendo”, and the ways that lovers shift uneasily to friends.
I’m thinking about you, too, “Judy Garland”, and the huge limelight of a chorus lit on the fallen actress. It’s the greatest song that Mumford & Songs never wrote – and never will, since they’ve dropped their postcard pastoral aesthetic (which would never touch anything deeper than a metaphysical heartache, anyway) and sunken to a new low of anonymity. Frog, on the other hand, use a rousing pop sound to zoom in on a footnote of America’s cultural memory – which is what “folk” should do anyway, isn’t it?
Mind, I can’t always make out Dan Bateman’s rapid rambles, especially on the riot-and-a-half, Meat Puppet-y rodeo of “King Kong”. But I catch these moments – the big bosoms of the waitresses on “All Dogs…”, the Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring into the back seat on the rambunctious “Fucking”, the coffee-stained photograph plucked off the floor and cut down to wallet-size on the stomping Modest Mouse barnraiser of “Knocking On The Door”. You see these snapshots, and they stick.
And besides, not everything need be clear when so much anger, glee, yearning, angst, hysteria bleeds into every word. I might tell you, for instance, that “Everything 2002” opens with a speaker reminiscing about the dirty magazines and hidden DVDs stashed in a treehouse, and you might think it’s silly. But actually, the synths hug you close like your own private hideaway under the cupboard. “I run where no one can see / then they’ll console me”. I still marvel at how Frog can do this – that is, swirl the serious and the funny and the prosaic together and steal your breath away even after you’ve heard the whole album half a dozen times. Especially in the final track – not “Bad Boy”, but the hidden one just after that, where drummer Thomas White drops into a jazzy shuffle and someone croons on a kazoo like he’s that sax-toting loser in “Deacon Blue”.
I’m reminded constantly of Paul Simon for some reason – the ear for harmony, the intimate expertise of a city that comes from wandering for wandering’s sake (“Wish Upon the Bar” demonstrates both of these beautifully), the stories shared about run-ins at the supermarket , the instantly impressionable similes. Like in “Judy Garland” – “wanna put my foot down on Manhattan /make it float back like a boogie board”.
Above all, this is just wonderful. Frog are two guys you can love, without shame or irony. And I fear that, if I say much more, I’ll destroy their charm. And that, methinks, is what so many bands lack – charm, real flawed charm, like the charm you see in the friend that always turns up an hour late but also always tips the bartender. Kind of Blah may not grace the airwaves or garner any industry awards, but you can touch it and hug it and hang out with it and eat pizza with it and be best buds for a long, long time.