Of course, by borrowing the musical language of past masters, Francke doesn't just raise the stakes; he sends expectations through the roof. Every moment here would be improved if Francke's voice equaled his ambitions, and even the album's finest arrangements, moving and elegant as they are, feel stiff and a little clumsy beside their inspirations. "American Twilight," for example, is built on the haunting piano chord that begins "Inner City Blues," but the result is much closer to the blue-eyed soul of Style Council or ABC than it is to Marvin Gaye. Then again, those bands made some pretty damn good records, and to Francke's credit, he has no use for the recurring layers of irony and emotional distance that posed the two Brit bands' most significant limitations. Today's pop-rock landscape suffers from many of the same problems, and in that context, Francke's earnest approach squashes quibbles flat. Lyrically and musically, What We Talk of ... is a rare gesture -- compelling, risky and, considering our own cautious and dangerous times, even important. The question is: Can he get a witness?