Work Of Art – Framework
Reviewed by Jeff Teets
The genre of melodic rock/AOR always presents me with a bit of a conundrum. Despite my undying love of catchy melodies, soaring vocals, impressive guitars, and truly masterful songwriting, I find that even most of the genre’s front-runners are largely incapable of producing a consistent and awe-inspiring record. For me, the average AOR album tends to birth a small handful of great “single-worthy” uptempo tracks (usually the album opener and another track near the beginning), a great ballad, and then around a half-dozen fairly forgettable tunes that make the album hard to love overall. This pattern likens the genre to pop a little bit, and makes me yearn for the release of live albums or “Best of” packages from some bands so that I can hopefully get all of the standout tracks in one place.
For about five years now, the Frontiers record label has been breeding a dynasty of bands that are seeking to firmly establish a new era of melodic rock music. United by the super-group W.E.T., Work Of Art is joined by others such as Eclipse and Toby Hitchcock as being the best of this new breed. The band’s two prior albums showed a ton of promise, but all in all failed to really elevate the band beyond the standard formula I’ve described. In fact, the only album by this family of musicians that has done that for me is Toby Hitchcock’s Mercury’s Down, from 2011, which wowed me front-to-back with nonstop great songs and a stellar vocal performance. I recently purchased W.E.T.’s One Live in Stockholm DVD, and was caught off guard by how much I enjoyed their performance of Work Of Art’s “The Great Fall” from sophomore effort In Progress, complete with WOA vocalist Lars Säfsund in tow. I quickly revisited the Work Of Art albums and began enjoying them more than I had in the past, but I still felt like the band hadn’t yet crafted a brilliant album.
Enter Framework, the band’s third full-length effort. From the album’s opening cut, “Time To Let Go”, it’s quite clear that the entire ensemble means business this time around. Lars’s vocals are in fine form as expected, the production is impeccable, the songwriting is just brilliant, and Robert Säll delivers a lead guitar performance far superior to what you’d expect from someone who is involved in other projects where they don’t even play guitar. “Shout Til You Wake Up” greets the listener with an excellent clean guitar intro dripping with 80’s tones in the best way. This song builds to a really enjoyable climax and packs a refreshingly different keyboard solo to boot.
A very noticeable trait that sets Framework apart from the average album in this style is that, while the album’s opener certainly stands as a highlight, the record really hits its stride near the middle of the disc, thanks to the outstanding trilogy of the uptempo “How Do You Sleep at Night?”, with its infectious groove and uplifting melody; the undeniable groove and punchy fun of “Over the Line”; and the notably powerful “The Machine”. As I stated earlier, I find it all too common for albums in this genre to start great and fall off dramatically, so to be hit in the face with an amazing set of songs from track 5 through 7 was such a pleasant surprise. The album soldiers on, presenting two more excellent highlights in “The Turning Point” as well as the token “song with a girl’s name” in the form of “Natalie”.
All in all, I think the most refreshing thing about this record for me is that unlike a lot of other melodic rock/AOR I’ve heard, Work Of Art doesn’t make any attempt to walk the line between rock and metal. Too many bands in this genre don’t really seem to know how to properly break the metal mold, and as a result, end up sounding like a watered-down metal band that just needs some heavier guitars and whatnot. Framework actually sounds even less like this than the band’s sophomore album, with many of the individual tracks offering up the strengths of classic pop, power-pop, and classic AOR, and eschewing just about any typical metal stereotypes. Lars Säfsund’s vocals really steal the show overall, but the entire group not only holds its own, but each member shines in his own right.
With their first two albums, Work of Art put a firm foot forward through the door of the melodic rock world, but with Framework, they have broken through the frame of that door and arrived confidently among the genre’s best bands – not only of the moment, but quite possibly of all time. This album has easily destroyed the mold, and in just a few weeks’ time has become my most-played album of 2014. I am very hesitant to give a perfect score, and to be honest, I’m not certain that Framework will be my Album of the Year, but it’s a damn fine contender. As a fan of this style that is quite skeptical, I have to say – if this album is not perfection for what it is, than I don’t know what is.
5 // 5