CD Review: Peter Frampton – Premonition, When All The Pieces Fit, Now

CD Review: Peter Frampton – Now
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: A

CD Review: Peter Frampton – Premonition
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: B-

CD Review: Peter Frampton – When All The Pieces Fit
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: C

Peter Frampton - Premonition 2015
Wandering in a neon wilderness of New Wave, punk and hair metal in the 1980s, Peter Frampton had lost his way. A string of commercial defeats had considerably dimmed his star, that is until 1986's Premonition yielded the catchy minor mainstream-rock hit "Lying."

It was a brief glimpse of the old Frampton, a spirited romp of pop defiance with good, sure hooks, but Premonition's heavy reliance on synthesizers and glossy '80s production values pushed Frampton's distinctive guitar work into the album's cobweb-covered recesses – so much so that the record now sounds horribly dated, thin and soulless. Whatever promising melodies and song structures he'd come up with were lost in a technological junkyard, and Premonition came off as a desperate attempt at relevancy, just like its equally disappointing successor, 1989's wet bag When All The Pieces Fit

While each have their moments, the two records, soon to be reissued by Omnivore Recordings along with 2003's Now – each boasting expanded artwork and extensive liner notes drawn from interviews with Frampton – find the Humble Pie co-founder grasping at straws, attempting to retool his earthier blues and hard-rock aesthetics for a modern digital age that seemingly wanted nothing to do with him, and often failing at it. Generic songwriting poisons "You Know So Well," the title track and the syrupy power ballad "All Eyes On You." Much of this material has aged badly, going the way of the floppy disk with all of its synthetic window-dressing. And yet, Premonition can be bright, boisterous and exude a sunny charm, as "Stop," "Hiding From a Heartache," "Into View" and "Call of the Wild" – as well as smartly designed bonus tracks  "So Far Away" and "Nothing At All" – can attest.

Peter Frampton - When All
The Pieces Fit 2015
Three years later, fresh off taking part in David Bowie's "Glass Spider Tour," Frampton stumbled with the drab, lightweight When All The Pieces Fit. The subdued 1989 effort saw him collaborating with The Rembrandts' Danny Wilde and John Regan, and the results were mixed, to say the least. While the pop buoyancy of "Back to the Start" and the wheeling, infectious chorus of "Hard Earned Love" contain some spark of inspiration, the rest of When All the Pieces Fit sounds unconvincing, especially on "Hold Tight," "Holding On To You," "More Ways Than One" and "My Heart Goes Out to You."

All these years later, the cold and aloof When All The Pieces Fit still gives the impression that Frampton was disconnected with contemporary pop music at that time, that he was a fish out of water when it came to using new studio gadgetry. Even the occasional burst of guitar fireworks feels forced, the album's leaden stomps and flimsy melodies clumsily groping for relevance.

Peter Frampton - Now 2015
Redemption would arrive with 2003's Now, undoubtedly the gem of this lot and one Frampton's finest efforts. A vastly underrated work, this is Frampton completely comfortable in his own skin, honest to a fault and staying true to his roots. Keeping it simple, Frampton engages in electrified, riff-mongering rockers such "Verge Of A Thing" and "I'm Back" wearing coats of distorted fuzz to stay warm, then gnashes his teeth while delivering a stirring rendition of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," his impassioned tribute to George Harrison.

A gentle reading of "Mia Rose," this soft, glowing ballad that is positively luminous and quite possibly one of the best songs he's ever recorded, is exquisitely rendered, as is the brooding, confessional "Hour Of Need," its soul-baring poignancy couched in enticing hooks that evolve wonderfully. Frampton's nuanced guitar work is sublime on Now, at once elegant and understated, but then turning somewhat rougher around the edges, matching the emotional turmoil of these songs. This time around, he turned to George Kennedy (Bonnie Raitt, Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss) as a songwriter, and the man who wrote Eric Clapton's "Change The World" helped Frampton recapture the magic.

Now finds Frampton confronting inner demons and wrestling with them in songs artfully arranged and deftly executed, where Premonition and Where The Pieces Fit are valuable only in that they tell a cautionary tale of an artist straying from his principles. On the surface, it seem odd to lump these three releases together, but in a way, it makes perfect sense. Frampton wasn't afraid to experiment in the '80s, but in doing so, he never quite figured out how to reconcile his songwriting values with all the new toys at his disposal. But, in the end, with Now, he found his way back with a record that deserves to be celebrated and not forgotten.
– Peter Lindblad

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