Could it really be twenty five years since Simon Austin and Angie Hart formed Frente? In their absence, it seems that respect and kudos have grown. New generations discover them for the first time, peers take another nostalgic listen to songs that they fell in love with, broke up to, and started over with. Frente continue to mean something to many.
From the beer soaked carpet of the Punters Club in Fitzroy to massive international stages, Frente won hearts and took no prisoners with cuts such as ‘Ordinary Angels’, ‘Labour of Love’ and their acoustic take on New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. While the world got their hands dirty with all things grunge, Frente’s blend of alternative and folk pop set them apart. The honesty of the performances and recordings were paired with quirky riffs and thoughtful structures. Simon’s guitar work drew comparisons to Jonny Marr’s work for the Smiths, and Dave Gavurin’s for the Sundays. Angie’s vocal presence was an absolute first for its time, eschewing the standard Americanised twang to sing proudly in her native Australian accent.
So, twenty-five years. How did they get here? The plan was there was no plan. Frente’s popularity was organic happenstance. As fresh faced ingenues Simon and Angie (with Tim O’Connor and Mark Picton) jumped headfirst into the Melbourne’s bourgeoning gig circuit of the very early 90s, swiftly amassing a loyal legion of local diehard fans. Their first collection of recordings, ‘Whirled’ (sold largely at gigs) went into many multi-coloured, now collectible re-pressings, eventually crossing over to national alternative radio, pushing key track ‘Labour of Love’ into no.69 on triple j’s Hottest 100 for 1991. ‘Whirled’ also fell into the hands of the White label, part of Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Group, who picked up Frente for their next EP, ‘Clunk’. Lead single ‘Ordinary Angels’ saw the underground group burst overground, peaking on the ARIA single chart at no. 3 and enjoying platinum sales.
Frente were now an Australian household name, and with much anticipation ‘Marvin The Album’ was released at the very end of 1992. Produced by the band with Michael Koppelman (Paisley Park’s in-house engineer and producer for Prince), the album featured some reworked cuts from ‘Whirled’ and ‘Clunk’ and was recorded in Melbourne at Platinum Studios. ‘Marvin’ peaked at no. 5 and also went platinum. ‘Accidently (sic) Kelly St’ was the first single from the album, reaching no. 3, enjoying platinum sales. If locally some corners picked holes in the videos for ‘Kelly Street’ and ‘Ordinary Angels’ for being a little too sweet, it seemed there was no such stigma for the band internationally. After collecting Aria Awards in Sydney in 1993 for Breakthrough Single (‘Ordinary Angels’) and Album (‘Marvin’) Frente followed in the footsteps of seminal indie-pop bands such as The Triffids and The Go-Betweens to find the recognition that had eluded them in their success in their hometown.
Turning down Madonna’s personal offer to sign them to Maverick, the band opted to release via indie Mammoth in the US and via Mushroom in Europe, and thus began a grueling three years around the globe. Invited to tour extensively with some of the biggest alternative artists of the day, including Everything But The Girl, Ween, The Beautiful South, Crowded House and Alanis Morrisette they made multiple visits throughout the US and Canada, through Mexico and Latin America, and even more tours through South East Asia and Japan and Europe. ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ became a bona fide moment in the US, peaking at no. 10 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart and no.49 on the Billboard Hot 100. As such ‘Marvin’ received a tweak for the US with “1.9.0” and “Out of My Sight” removed in favour of three more current tracks – “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “Explode”, and “Lonely”.
Along the way ‘Marvin’, quietly nudged up over 1.2 million copies around the world. Sitting at 21 years between the Australian and US releases of the album, 2014 seems like a most fitting year to revisit Marvin. Across 2 discs (fully remastered by Bob Ludwig in Los Angeles), ‘Marvin’ disc one features the Australian version of ‘Marvin’ with the addition of the three US bonus tracks added after the original sequence. The second disc features the long-out-of-print ‘Whirled’ and ‘Clunk’ EPs, again fully remastered, as well as a handful of rare-as-hen’s teeth bonus tracks from the ‘Marvin’ era.
In celebration of ‘Marvin’, Frente will embark on “Marvin The Album, 21st Anniversary Tour”, their first full national headline tour since 1997. Visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth and making regional visits to Castlemaine and Lismore, Frente will perform ‘Marvin’ from beginning to end, as it appears on the original Aussie CD, followed by the US cuts and many long standing fan favourites.