The Frames are desperately seeking a soulmate on the opening track of their latest record, “The Cost.” On “Song for Someone,” lead singer Glen Hansard moans “And if we’re all for someone/ And if we’re both for someone/ When will she come, that someone?/ And put things in their place?” It’s a relief that the band realizes there’s something wrong — in their love lives, even if that awareness hasn’t extended any further — but it’s going to take a little more than a soulmate to set things straight.
“The Cost” is the eighth studio album for Dublin’s The Frames, a band that has always stood in the shadow of fellow Irishmen U2. Though The Frames have accumulated a mass following back home, their maudlin lyrics and desperate cries aren’t enough to convince American audiences that they’re ready to join the ranks of our adopted Irish cultural commodities: Guinness and Michael Flatley. And Michael Flatley was born in Chicago.
The album abuses the typical rock themes of love, loss and the pitiful cliché that “It will all be right in the end.” Each song is painful — to your ears, not to your heart — with lyrics that fail to inspire or yield a shred of sympathy. Covering the full range of relationships, every song still manages to be about loneliness. In “Falling Slowly,” Hansard, longing for companionship, wallows, “I don’t know you/ But I want you all the more for that.” But even love doesn’t satisfy his isolation, as he demonstrates on the title track: “Love has been the cost/ Of all this suffering.” And, not surprisingly, heartbreak will only further tear him apart: “And the light you gave/ You took when you were gone,” he blubbers on “Sad Songs.” Even though Hansard desperately craves someone to “put things in their place,” when he is lucky enough to have found that someone, he still manages to mess it up — a predicament that he explains with claims that he has a “Bad Bone” that precludes him from entering a healthy and happy relationship.
But though The Frames might have been able to redeem the puzzling misery channeled by their lyrics with silky vocals or skillful instrumentation, they deliver neither. Regrettably, Hansard’s voice channels the husky strain of Soundgarden/Audioslave’s Chris Cornell, pushing his voice through each mediocre lyric phrase, riding his breathlessness into an unbearable forced crescendo. And then, sitting idly under this mournful pang, is the music of the band: Their instrumentals are rarely brought to the fore, maybe for good reason, because when they are audible, The Frames present nothing more than slow strumming and humdrum drums.
“The Cost” is terribly repetitive, in theme, sound and overall feel. The haziness of the recording lends an unwelcome unfinished quality to the album — which isn’t helped by the typos in the liner notes. Frames are meant for adornment; they are not to be forced through your iPod buds. That would hurt and give you splinters. And no one wants that.