Artist: "Fred Frith"
Album: "Cheap At Half The Price"
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label: Fred Records

Reviewer: Max Burbank
Posted: 11/9/2008

Review: You kids are so lucky and you don’t even know it. There was a fairly long chunk of time back in the strictly vinyl days when this album, originally released by Ralph Record (The Residents label) in 1983, was very out of print, very rare, and very expensive. In 2004 and it was re-released on Fred’s own label, Fred Records, and you can pick it up, well, Cheap at half the price.

Fred Frith is a seriously crazy ass musician. When I saw him perform solo prepared guitar back in the eighties, it was one of the five formative experiences that completely blew the mind I had and began rearranging it into what is today. I promise I’ll write about the others at some point, but right now I’m all about Frith.

Frith used three or four prepared guitars for the concert I saw. Here’s what they basically where: A pickup, a bridge, strings stretched over screws, all nailed down to a plank of wood. I saw him play those guitars with violin bows, drum sticks, vibrating pencils wedged between threads, and electric drill, sprinkling salt on the strings, placing a radio on the table and letting the sound vibrate through the strings and as God is my witness, beating the guitars with a rubber chicken. The variety of sounds created was beyond describing, and as the evening wore on, I came to feel as if a very heavy manhole cover that sealed a pipe to someplace where the laws of physics were very different from the ones I’d grown up with was being slowly and laboriously levered out of the ground by a burly, sweating longshoreman, until it finally tilted up and rolled aside and against my will I was drawn to the edge and I lay flat out on the ground and stuck my head in the pipe. Was I inebriated? A few hours later, yes, but not then. I can only tell you the head I took out of that tube was not the head I’d put in.

How strange then, that my favorite Fred Frith album, “Cheap at Half the Price” first side is a series of deceptively simple, catchy, songs, mostly played on conventional guitars, and Fred (for the first time in his recording career) sings. It is decidedly not the other world he constructed on that long ago night. It is, and I have no other word for this, delightful. Oh, it’s pretty odd. If you put it on after listening to “Synchronicity” (The Police) or “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” (The Eurythmics) both released the same year, “Cheap at Half the Price” would sound pretty damn avant-garde. But if you listened to it after listening to Frith’s “Guitar Solos” (released in 1974, and the kind of stuff I saw live), well… it’s like the most lovely picnic you ever went on.

I must confess, I’m talking almost exclusively about the first side, the songs. I rarely turned the album over. The second side is all instrumental, as if Fred was shy to fill both sides with a voice that sounds a little like a very earnest six year old shout/singing/barking his way through his first school assembly solo in precise, choppy, careful little beats. It’s mostly ambient, a term that became something of an insult because of a lot of horrible crap that followed the earliest experiments, of which this is one. It’s fine, but it never grabbed me the way side one did. However when you consider that the top selling album that year was “Thriller”... well, much as I like the video, even side two of “Cheap at Half The Price” is pretty amazing.

Overall rating: WholeWholeWholeWhole
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

The stealer of Pies
Nov 10th, 2008, 12:44 PM
oh gods yes! you're back max!

oh how we missed you
poop turtle
Nov 10th, 2008, 01:33 PM
again your taste astounds me!

fred was in my town not so long ago doing a guitar workshop, i never went for fear that everybody would laugh at me having an ibanez and not being able to play past the intro of raining blood.

stuff he did with ivor, zorn and the residents is great too.
100% Regulator
Nov 10th, 2008, 06:38 PM
welcome back Max you were surely missed