Considering that I was only three years old when Peter Frampton’s first solo album, Wind of Change, came out, I couldn’t tell you what impact that might have had on the world of FM radio rock. Fans who followed him from his departure from Humble Pie might have been thrown for a loop, but I cannot picture the event making much of a commotion. I couldn’t tell you, off the top of my head, the names of his next three albums either. It wouldn’t be until 1975 when, in some strange pop cultural osmosis, everyone turned their eyes in unison toward him and his legendary Frampton Comes Alive! recording and made him a decade-old overnight sensation. It’s all been downhill from there.
That never stopped Frampton from being an interesting songwriter and a great guitarist, but whatever fueled the passion for the live tracks, “Baby, I Love Your Way”, “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” simply didn’t extend to the next release and beyond. It’s almost insulting that the follow-up, I’m in You actually sold well, but because of the curve the prior release created, it was perceived a sales disappointment. He’s never fully regained that mojo through these many years and has knocked around major, minor and independent labels since the early ’80s after parting from the A&M auspices. The appearance of Thank You Mr Churchill marks several homecomings, then. The first is the return of producer Chris Kimsey, who wore the headphones for Frampton’s debut way back when. The second is that he’s suddenly back on A&M Records, even though it can hardly be considered the same label among the multitude of logos Universal Music casually changes up like a shell-game operator.
The most important note here is that the album bucks the trend of older acts coasting on weak material just to have something to sell on the summer oldies circuit. I’m as surprised as anyone that a song as fiery as “Solution,” the second track, is here at all. As ever, Frampton’s guitar burns brightly, and the age in his voice has not diminished the mood a bit. Instead, he takes on a slight rasp that recalls Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker. “Asleep At The Wheel” has the bug as well featuring an incredible guitar solo that should make instrument store patrons bow down and shout hallelujah. “Invisible Man” features the incomparable Funk Bros., giving the track a ’70s Motown sheen that is irresistible.
The sad truth is that this isn’t the 1970s or even the 1980s, and miraculous career resurrections don’t happen much anymore — bad luck for a song like “I’m Due A You” that, had pop music not become so gentrified, displays all the makings of a bona fide hit. It has a huge chorus hook, a lighthearted spin on the subject of bad luck itself and makes what reads as an awful title into a perfectly fitting one. And then, just to put some whipped cream and cherries on top of the sundae, a sudden breakdown leads to another awesome solo with a feel-good backup vocal hook. Co-written with Gordon Kennedy (from the fondly remembered Dogs of Peace with Jimmy Lee Sloas) the song has the ingredients that could park it on pop radio, much like those tracks from Frampton Comes Alive! did, and keep it there. The reality is that it might get picked up on classic rock radio and cycled for a couple weeks, and that might be it.
When I initially approached the disc, there was no reason to believe this would be anything more than what so many before it were — a half-hearted stab at a dwindling fanbase sold on the name at the top, while the guts of the thing are relegated to tossed-off trifles. It is to Frampton’s credit that, in the age of the diminishing value of the record, he’s made a damn good one.
YouTube has a video with Peter Frampton discussing Thank You Mr. Churchill which has had embedding disabled.
Thank You Mr Churchill is available from Amazon.