Review: Peter Frampton Goes Vocal-Free on ‘Frampton Forgets the Words’

Peter Frampton
Forgets the Words
(UMe)
4 out of 5 stars

This wryly titled instrumental album focuses on Peter Frampton’s guitar playing. It’s an aspect that tends to get overlooked as his audience-pleasing, talk-box showboating performances tend to overwhelm those talents.

It’s not Frampton’s first foray into vocal-free music. He won his first Grammy for Fingerprints in 2006, which also dispensed with singing to concentrate on his fluid six-string dexterity. Those who have seen him live know that Soundgarden’s lyric-less “Black Hole Sun” is a concert highlight. 

These ten covers not only spotlight Frampton’s superb guitar prowess, but also prove how diverse his influences are. From country (Alison Krauss’ “Maybe,” co-written by Gordon Kennedy) to dream pop (Roxy Music’s “Avalon”), funk (Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay”), soul (the Motown/Marvin Gaye classic “One More Heartache”) and rock (a rollicking take on Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way”), Frampton is comfortable, and even relishes, a variety of musical contexts. He also dips his fingers into jazz, where his solo takes Jaco Pastorius’ bass part in a seldom heard Michel Colombier piece “Dreamland.” 

Frampton pays respects to late friend David Bowie, who hired him for the theatrical Glass Spider tour in 1987, with a sparkling “Loving the Alien,” a song that featured Frampton in those shows. The shimmering “Avalon” reveals an affection for beautiful melody as his guitar glides and soars on the Roxy Music classic. His organic playing in Radiohead’s “Reckoner” emphasizes the song’s floating vibe removed from Thom Yorke’s artsy, falsetto vocals. Stevie Wonder’s rather obscure but propulsive “I Don’t Know Why” lets Frampton play with the soulful selection, edging into jazz. George Harrison’s rich catalog is revisited with a soaring “Isn’t It a Pity,” where the guitarist builds tension and raises the temperature as the tune progresses. 

The backing band generally stays on low boil, allowing Frampton room to display his soloing abilities and nimble alterations in tone—something he does with all the class, subtlety and sophistication you’d expect from a performer of his stature.

Photo by Austin Lord

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