he Frames are Irish rock veterans who are supposedly a lot bigger in countries that aren’t America. But I can’t really see it. Not in the way that foreigners likely wonder why Hinder is such a big deal around these parts. The Frames just don’t make very social music; Glen Hansard has a voice with a permanent three-day growth that was supernaturally intended to convey lonely, earnest barstool philosophizing. For lack of a better term, he sounds like someone who lives this shit. If you’ve got a beer in your hand while listening to the Frames, you’re probably staring into it, not raising it.
The Frames also test your patience. A lot. Most of the time, it’s worth the wait: 2005’s Burn the Maps built up to more than a few thrilling moments of catharsis—the eruptive bridge of “Fake,” “Dream Awake”’s jittery ramp, most of “Underglass”—and they doled them out as they damn well pleased. But even after several spins of The Cost, you’ll still be waiting for those kind of moments and feel the futility of trying to turn a ho into a housewife. The Frames were never a joyous band, perhaps defeated but certainly defiant. The Cost is bleached of any sort of lifeblood, stumbling out of the gate and moping towards the finish line. “There’s nothing you can do when your mind’s made up,” sings Hansard, embodying the hollow indifference that echoes through the album. Imagine the wispier parts of Coldplay’s Parachutes wracked with a crippling hangover, the kind where you spend your entire day just waiting for it to come to a merciful end. These are songs that simply can’t be bothered.
As such, I’m just tempted to shift-F7 on the word “lazy” to write the rest of this review. Soporific. Sluggish. Indolent. These are the words that come to mind when listening to The Cost. The Frames can still build up to a noisy squall, but lyrically, Hansard’s never been so rote. You hear “it’s hard to pretend” and immediately know “it’s coming to an end” is on its way. Even the ugly misogyny of “The Side You Never See” ends up sounding completely casual. To twist a lyric from Burn the Maps, they’re not even trying.
The lyrical faux pas are even more striking since they’re being added to rice cake arrangements; maybe the polite strumming and eggshell stickwork is intentionally bland, but that doesn’t make them any more enjoyable. Hansard overcompensates by attempting skyscraper vocal hooks, but he can’t get past the third floor without falling into an exhausted heap. Try giving your friend a blind taste test of “Falling Slowly” and “Rise.” Look forward to “I can’t believe you’re listening to fuckin’ Snow Patrol!” The title track in particular is a physical marvel, jamming in what seems like a decade’s worth of tedium in four-and-a-half defiantly tuneless minutes.
I don’t know what happened to these guys in the last two years, but I can’t imagine much of it was good. Hansard warns himself, “too many sad words lead to sad, sad songs,” which would be pretty meaningless in any form, let alone as meta-introspection. But it becomes almost essential being lumped into a waxy jangle that suggests the Frames learned country rock from listening to Coldplay’s “The Hardest Part” over and over again. Few combinations are more telling of what The Cost brings to the table.
The Cost tries to recapture the stately slow burn of For the Birds, but ultimately suffers the same fate of the poppin’ fresh dough that was Leaders of the Free World, Elbow’s fall from grace. Ironic that these two groups were once posited as rougher, more masculine alternatives to Travis. Fran and ’em never sounded this soggy, and The Cost is basically Wonder Bread dragged all the way across the pond. Talk about the last laugh of the laughter.