Francis Dunnery’s latest project, a return to rock and the electric guitar, is a literal labour of love, motivated by filial affection and a deathbed promise. The back-story is an interesting, salutary tale, chronicled in detail on the artist’s website: Frank had an older guitarist brother called Barry (Baz) whom he idolised.
Despite playing in name bands during the 70s (the Tony Iommi-managed metal band Necromandus, ELO offshoot Violinski), Baz never quite made it in the music business, and died in 2008 aged just 56. Prior to this, Frank made a promise to his dying mother that he and Baz would appear on an album together. Thus Frankenstein Monster, a journey of (re)discovery for little Francis, reworking some of his brother’s compositions alongside tracks penned specially for this release.
The title track kicks things off in a slightly misleading manner, as it’s one of Dunnery’s present-day compositions. It’s all tight, bouncy pop-rock with a bittersweet edge, like a distant, more measured relative of It Bites’ Kiss Like Judas, perhaps. Straight away, it’s a joy to hear that voice and those guitar noodlings, and he’s ably backed by drummer Tony Beard, bassist Paul Brown and his nephew, Baz’s son John.
Dunnery has made much of this album being a ‘return’ to prog, and some of Baz’ compositions very much reflect the era in which they were written. There’s a flavour of very early Yes in Big Fine Lad, an embryonic Jethro Tull with strains of Camel and Caravan in Yam and slightly jazzy Ho Ho Your Sandwiches (with its pair of utterly gorgeous guitar solos). The cover of Blood Of My Fathers, by little-known prog outfit Warm Dust is simply stunning.
In parts Dunnery evokes bands populating the fringes of a number of musical territories: Christianity has a minor early Sabbath vibe, but it’s also possible to identify hints of The Groundhogs and Stray, with their heavy blues proto-prog riffing, in tracks like Limpet Man and Judy Green Rocket. Closing track Multi Colored Judy Green is just a voice, acoustic guitar, subtle bass and string backing. It’s a beautiful song of fragile yearning, and one of the highlights of the album.
This is no sub-It Bites release, nor is it, one feels, a launch pad into a new chapter of electric rock/prog explorations for Dunnery. His rich career has always taken him where his muse and wide-ranging interests have directed (much of his time is taken up with his astrology business nowadays).
Should the next stage in his journey take him on a completely different path, we should still be grateful for this highly personal detour, and the chance to hear this tribute to the past, as filtered through Frank’s undoubted magnificence.