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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Album Review: Dia Frampton's "Red"

Hello, and welcome to Music Tuesday. 

As you may have heard, I enjoy a program called The Voice. One of the things I like most about it is the way it promotes people with unique or unusual voices. Season 1 of the voice had several such performers; Xenia, Nakia, Dia Frampton, and Rebecca Loebe come to mind. Dia Frampton, who placed 2nd in season 1, recently released her debut album (sort of) "Red". Today, I review that album.  

I say that "Red" (available on iTunes) is sort of her debut album, because even though it isn't her first album, it's probably the first one you've heard of. Dia and her sister Meg have recorded 4 albums and 6 EPs already under the name "Meg & Dia", and have spent the last 7 years or so touring to promote those albums. It's not even her first album with a major label; "Here, Here and Here" was released under Warner Bros.. This is, however, her first album with a significant amount of publicity behind it, and so it seems appropriate to consider it as a debut album.

Keep reading for a track by track analysis.

Track by Track

The first track is called "Don't Kick The Chair (feat. Kid Cudi)" and is, like much of the album, a little bit confused about what it wants to be. Musically, the song is fairly straightforward pop, although the lyrics are a bit dark for a pop song. The repeated references to the world as a "braided rope, in a noose around your neck" followed by the title line "don't kick the chair" seem to be a clear indication that the song is encouraging the listener to not commit suicide. Unlike Queen's "Don't Try Suicide", though, there doesn't seem to be any tongue in Dia's cheek.

I'm generally less than enthusiastic about any song with "ft." or "feat." or "featuring" in the title, as the guest artist is usually thrown into the mix purely for marketing rather than musical reasons; this song is no exception. Not being a teenager, I have no idea who Kid Cudi is, but he clearly doesn't belong on this track. The song does need some sort of break at exactly the spot he comes in, but his rappy little interlude is jarring and doesn't fit the feel of the song at all.

That being said, the tune is extremely catchy. Every time I listen to it I end up with it bouncing around in my head for two or three days afterwards. Also, Dia's voice on this track sounds more than usual like Stevie Nicks and sounding like Stevie Nicks is a pretty cool thing to be able to do. All in all a good start to the album.

The Second track is "Isabella", where she moves from sounding like Stevie Nicks to sounding like early Dolly Parton (also a good thing), although it might just be because there's more of a country feel to this track. The guitar is mixed forward a bit compared to the first track, and the drums are straight out of Garth Brooks' (or more likely Blake Shelton's) band. This one feels a bit more singer/songwritery, which is my preferred style of music.

The third track, called "The Broken Ones" reminds me of an 80s pop ballad. That isn't a good thing. It is followed by the very forgettable "Good Boy". Next up is a duet with her The Voice coach Blake Shelton called "I Will". The sentiment behind the lyrics are more than a little trite and naive, but upbeat country music often leans that way. The parts with Blake Shelton also seem a bit out of place stylistically. His vocal comes barelling in like a freight train and it felt a bit like the volume jump when a television show goes to a commercial break. It is a decent country/pop song, though, and holds up fairly well to repeat listening.

"Billy the Kid" made me wonder if ABBA was trying to make a comeback. The song was a bit too dancey/electronic for my tastes, but I can see how it might catch on with people somewhat younger than myself (or, more likely, the gay clubbing scene).

Track 7, "Daniel" is where the Dia finds her way back to what she's good at; accoustic feeling music with lyrics that tell a story. The lyrics are cleverly written and genuinely touching, the melody is strong and haunting, and Dia's voice is forward enough in the mix that the listener feels as if they are sitting in a coffee shop listening to her perform.

Walk Away” brings us briefly back to the Top 40 vanilla pop of “Good Boy” and “I Will”. Honestly, this song could have been recorded by any one of the current crop of teen girl “performers”. “Bullseye” continues the trend somewhat with its simplistic and repetitive lyrics, but redeems itself a bit with tips of the hat to the soul/R&B tradition, in particular in the backup vocals.

Trapeze” is a pretty guitar and vocals song. Again, this is the style of song I like best on this album. In “Homeless” we get the same old falling in love story, but with exceptionally clever lyrics adding an interesting new take on it. It also has a fun, bouncy beat that I enjoyed.

The album ends with “Hearts Out To Dry”, which is more of a mood piece than the tracks that precede it. It’s also a bit of a down note to end the album on, especially when compared to much of the rest of the album, but I’ve gotten the impression that Dia tends towards melancholy in her writing. It has an ethereal feel to it, and the 3/4 time gives it an archaic quality that resonates with me. I take it as a promise of good things to come in the future from this young lady.


Overall, “Red” is a fairly solid album for something coming out of a major label these days. I can say I like more than half of the songs on it, which is unusual for an album recorded more recently than 1979 (give or take). It does, however, suffer from the same problems as most other current albums, in particular from new artists. It seems pretty clear, even on a casual listen, that too many people had too many fingers in too many pies with this record. There is very little in the way of artistic continuity from track to track.

At first I thought it might be a case of Dia trying to find “her sound”, but then I listened to her previous album, “Here, Here and Here”. I’ve only given it a quick once through so far, but I can say this; Dia Frampton knows exactly who she is as an artist. It seems that Universal Republic Records thinks that they know better, though.

A Small Rant

The sad fact is that record companies are so used to working with ‘performers’ these days that they treat artists the same way, and that’s a mistake. I will try not to go into a rant here about the difference between the two, other than to say that an artist expresses herself and her world view while a performer expresses someone else’s self and world view. They both have their place, but you’ll notice that popular performers remain popular over a period of several years while popular artists tend to remain popular over a period of several decades (Mariah Carey vs. Eric Clapton, for example). Instead of trying to turn Dia Frampton into the next Justin Bieber or whoever, they should let her be Dia Frampton. I think they’d find that more profitable in the long run.

Final Thoughts

At any rate, Dia Frampton’s “Red” is better than it should have been for a debut-esque, big studio album, and not as good as it could have been for a Dia Frampton album. I’m glad I bought it, it’s worth listening to, but I’d probably recommend one of her previous albums over this one.

PS. For anyone who read this far through (Buh Buh Buhnnnnnnn!) a bonus! Dia Frampton blogs. Her blog is here. Go read her stuff.


  1. I don't tend to read reviews, but I think you've done a nice job here.

    1. I can't say I've written a lot of them, but I'm not writing or recording a lot of music right now so if I want to write about music this seems like the best bet.


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