“White Pony” starts in twilight, slowly building — line by line — toward a soaring crooner’s anthem. The wonder, as it unfolds, is how Roddy Frame gives himself completely to the lyric. “So, go try on the night,” he offers, and Seven Dials has suddenly opened up in ways that might be surprising to those who remember the offhanded cool of Aztec Camera.
That mid-century sensibility leaks away quickly, however, with the arrival of the breezily urbane, smartly picturesque “Postcard,” the album’s advance song and something which recalls every part of Frame’s underrated 1980s-era triumphs. Over just two tracks, Frame has recaptured something, even as he’s hinted at how far he still intends to travel on this, his first album in eight long years.
As focused and honest as he is throughout, Frame never stops moving. “Into the Sun” offers a snappy, hard-eyed perspective on love’s verities, while the ruminative “Rear View Mirror” takes a trip into his quiet, crackled low range. “Forty Days of Rain” combines this squalling harp with a heart-skipping cadence, all of it completed by a jaunty lyric on moving past the bad times. “English Garden” reaches deep inside a trembling heartbreak, while “On the Waves” hurtles along over a rubbery bass groove. Frame then ends with this confidential whisper of song, “From a Train.”
In fact, the mature and varied Seven Dials explores such a broad range of emotion, with specificity and delicacy and heart, that it ends up feeling like a summation — a valedictory. Only, at the same time, so much of this feels so new, so in the moment. That’s the mark of a great comeback album, when it can be described simultaneously as lived in and like nothing you’ve heard before. And Roddy Frame has made one.