Graded on a Curve:
Peter Frampton,
Frampton Comes Alive!

I’ve spent decades trying to fathom the pull Frampton Comes Alive! had on me when it came out during my senior year in high school back in 1976. It couldn’t have been Frampton’s pureed baby food take on hard rock, or the songs that went on forever, or Frampton’s “talking guitar,” or those ubiquitous pop touchstones “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way” even.

No, I’ve been searching my soul for years, and I’ve finally figured it out: Peter Frampton was the hottest babe I’d ever laid eyes on. Just check out the album’s cover. Frampton is a bigger turn on than seventies’ sex symbol Farrah Fawcett, God rest her soul, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I didn’t want to listen to the Framp so much as lose my virginity to him. And I don’t think I was alone. I suspect a very large swath of America’s hormonal teen nerds longed to bed Peter Frampton, cock and all. And he made the girls scream as well, which certainly helps to explain his otherwise uncanny rise to superduperstardom.

And that’s really all I have to say about Frampton Comes Alive! I doubt many of my acned cohort still listen to it; I certainly don’t know anybody who does. That said, an album came with the swoon-worthy cover, and like most album that album has songs on it. So I feel obligated to say a few brief superfluous words on those really rather superfluous songs.

The first word that comes to mind, when taking the album as a whole, is limp. Not limpid, mind you, but limp. There’s a difference. Frampton may have emerged from Steve Marriott’s very very ‘eavy Humble Pie, but he was always the squishy side of the HP equation, and it shows on his take of Humble Pie’s “Shine On” as well as on his menace-free cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” True, the latter has more stones than anything else on Frampton Comes Alive! besides “(I’ll Give You) Money,” on which Peter demonstrates that he has chops. But “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is overly polite at best, and hardly designed to put a scare in your granny.

As for the rest of the album, it’s most faintly likeable pablum. This is less an LP than a big bowl of mush, and it doesn’t help that Frampton’s guitar—he was considered to be something of a guitar slinger at the time—totally lacks an edge. You’ve heard of a six-string razor? Well Peter’s playing a safety razor, he is. As for the songs, well they tend to be on the slack side. Even the ones I should like—such as the friendly “I Wanna Go to the Sun” and the “rockin’” “It’s a Plain Shame”—tend to wilt under Frampton’s far too lackadaisical treatment.

And the same goes for the Joe Walsh-lite “Do You Feel Like We Do?” He wakes up and he can’t remember what he did last night! His friend just got busted the other day! Tighten it up some and it might have worked. But the Framp opts to stretch it out for 14 seemingly interminable minutes and what we’re left with is a whole bunch of canoodling, the odd band introduction, and one truly regrettable talking guitar nattering on ad infinitum. “I want to thank you,” it says, because it’s every bit as polite as Frampton himself. But at the risk of sounding ungrateful, I want to tell it to put a sock in it.

As for the famous ones—I’m talking about the spritely “Show Me the Way” and the pretty “Baby, I Love Your Way”—Frampton has the good sense to keep them short. And they’re both above average pop songs, which is why you still hear them on classic rock radio. I can actually listen to the former tune with pleasure, and the latter number will always resonate with the romantic in me. Which is far, far more than I can say for the forgettable “Lines on My Face,” the acoustic “Wind of Change” (if its title sounds like it could be the title of a CSN&Y song it probably stinks like a CSN&Y song), and the ersatz funky, sub-Doobie Brothers copy that is “Doobie Wah.” (Close your eyes and you really do hear the Doobie Brothers. Which makes me wonder–did he call it “Doobie Wah” as a tribute? Do I really want to know?)

The very English Peter Frampton bestrode America’s Bicentennial Year like a Colossus, in part because he offered up a blandly likeable take on hard rock that appealed to people who don’t really like hard rock. But I’ll maintain until my dying day that his otherwise inexplicable success was due to another reason no one talks about: Be you boy or girl, stoat or goat, he turned you on. He was so pretty you just couldn’t help yourself. And who am I to begrudge him his astonishing male beauty? I should never forget that once upon a time I loved him.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C

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