This sunny wisp of a band wafted over from Melbourne, Australia, trailing a candy-colored jetstream of bubblegum-jazz and an uncommonly winsome temperament, both of which radiate largely from singer Angie Hart, a coquettish-voiced Tasmanian angel (she spent her formative years living in a religious community on that isolated Antipodean island). Although the band’s sweetly swinging sound — heavy (so to speak) on brushed snares and gentle, Joe Pass-styled guitar picking — couldn’t be more naked, no souls were bared in the making of any of Frente!’s records.
The seven-song Labour of Love, which served as an appetizer for the quartet’s full-length American debut, yielded a minor hit in the form of a folk-pop rendition of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” that was virtually unrecognizable — except to those who’d heard Devine & Statton’s almost identical version four years before. Of the five originals, only the pleading title cut (a flute-tinged trifle reprised on Marvin the Album) is more than a melodic sketch; still, Labour of Love is worth seeking out for the otherwise unavailable cover of Chris Knox’s lovestruck “Not Given Lightly.”
Marvin the Album emits a similar post-campfire glow, one that never threatens to ignite. Guitarist Simon Austin insinuates notes more often than he actually articulates them, which adds a disarming tone to “Accidently Kelly Street,” but hamstrings the mundane “Lonely” (which does vivify when Hart slips into Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe”). File under: Roxette for hipsters.
Shape, Frente!’s second full-length album, is considerably less ethereal, thanks to a newfound reliance on percussive frills (bongos and the like) and the more aggressive playing of new bassist Bill McDonald. Hart’s cheeriness seems to have abated as well, judging by the anti-romantic imagery she drapes across the languid melodies of “Air” and “Goodbye Goodguy.” Sometimes even bubblegummers get the blues.