Frankie's Playground (Riester International, 2000)
This solid and sonic hard rock album states its intentions clearly through the menacing ou glaring at you on the cover. He's saying this ain't music for sissies, for those trancers and ravers and folkies, no, it's for those who still like their music loud and hard and heavy. But, although there's the obvious nod back towards those '70's giants Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Aerosmith, there's also a knowing use of some of the more recent NIN-type progressions. But it's not all full-tilt, there's the new ballad-ish single, 'Evening Sunshine', with it's ascending guitars and strong vocals.
The album was recorded in the famous Area 51 Studios in Hanover, Germany with producer Tommy Newton. Other names involved in the project were Terry Hoax, Headcrash, and Phillip Boa and it features some top European musicians including Tore Ostby on guitars, Otto Van Alphen on bass and Matthias Liebetruth on drums.
Highlights include 'Fire And Rain', 'Nadira,' 'Fake' and 'Desire'. So, this worthy and well-crafted release is mostly no-frills, solid rock, with varied lyrics, tons of drive, sonic volume, and that concrete core that scares away all those for whom the expression "If it's too loud, etc. etc." still applies. This ain't no playground but it's fun!
Why Frankie's Playground is classified as a South African album mystifies me. After all, it was recorded in Germany with German musicians. The only local connection seems to be that Frankie Riester, who wrote and sings the songs, is the owner of Riester International Records which appears to be based in Cape Town, South Africa.
I would refer to this type of riff-heavy-but-light-on-tunes hard rock as proficient metal. Frankie's Playground (the band) is no doubt no more than a studio project with technically accomplished musicians who have mastered all the hard rock clichés in the book and as such they produce an efficient product that does rock but in an anonymous, prosaic way. The fast songs go by in a blur; nothing stands out because there are no interesting or memorable riffs, hooks or melodies. The only tracks that have staying power are the ballads 'Nadira' and 'Evening Sunshine" and the moody, mostly electronic (and this is probably the Nine Inch Nails reference of the Amuzine review) instrumental 'Gift.'
I'm also baffled by the previous reviewer's suggestion that "there's the obvious nod" to Seventies hard rock or heavy metal because the one thing you could not say about the acts name-checked above, is that their songs all sounded the same. It might come from the blues based rock they played or an innate pop sensibility grafted onto the loud guitars but those songwriters had a gift for light and shade, for dynamics, for moulding interesting and different songs. For all their great technical proficiency the German musicians on this album are not able to sustain any real interest in the songs over the length of an album. Sure 'Speedtrain' thunders along nicely and would probably be a great track on a metal compilation album or on an action movie soundtrack but it does not truly stand out amidst a whole album of equally thunderous yet undifferentiated songs.
This album could as well be filed under Muzak metal. It is not a bad album but it is simply well-intentioned and well-played hard rock fluff. One wonders why Frankie Riester felt compelled to journey to Germany to record such innocuous material and then to release it in this country to precious little interest. It is a staple of the music store bargain bin and the CD racks of the pawn shop chains.