Thursday, November 19, 2015

Del Amitri

The funny thing about the 1990s was the wide selection of music that still could be found on the charts.  While rock radio would like you to remember everything Nirvana or Alice In Chains, bla blah, the fact was that contemporary pop rock was still a norm.  Somehow to the left of Madchester alternative rock and the Seattle Grunge and to the right of hair metal lies the pop rock style of Del Amitri or better known to me as simply the Dels, easier to remember and easier to spell than Amitri. 

The band goes back to 1984 when Justin Currie advertised for musicians to play in his new band and ended up getting Iain Harvie to be the other half of this band and they got signed to Chrysalis and put out a very good debut that bordered on Elvis Costello and Aztec Camera but with a Cockney accent sound to beat, it's probably more on the same scale as The Housemartins.  Hugh Jones produced the debut and even if Justin Currie was a wee lad of 16 17 years old, his word play was much older and although I brought up the Elvis Costello reference, Justin may have listened to Graham Parker as well.  The album didn't sell very well and only when Del Amitri managed to get hits was when EMI decided to reissue it in 1995. Hammering Heart and Sticks And Stones Girl are the highlights.

After a three year absence, and a new label, Del Amitri's next album Waking Hours revealed a much different sound.  Gone was the wicked Cockney voice, replaced by a more smoke strained and laid back vocal from Currie as he had a hit with Kiss This Thing Goodbye, in a way, the left field song with banjo sounded out of place with the hair metal craze of 1989 and while Hugh Jones still was on as producer, the band was more stripped down and to the point.  You wouldn't know they were from Scotland.  Their type of rock was more straight ahead (Stone Cold Sober) but the ballads like Nothing Ever Happens or Move Away Jimmy Blue, was more of The Band rather then U2.  Although you don't hear much from this record, it was just as important as say U2's Rattle And Hum, just not as pretentious.

But every album that the Dels did do, Currie would find enough hooks and melody to come up with an hit single.  The Last To Know from Change Everything is one, and the throwaway Roll To Me, (the mix from Twisted sounded like Currie thought of it on the spot and Al Clay the producer recorded it that way) turned out to be their biggest hit, since it continues to be heard on soft rock and classic rock radio for that matter.  And later, Not Where It's At another mainstay of the radio.  Currie could compose it and Iain Harvie could think up a nice guitar riff and melody, but the strange thing about this was that they could have that big hit single on these albums but the rest of the songs would not be as attention grabbing. All of their albums really do have moments although while critics lambasted  Twisted, I thought it worked quite nicely as the Dels went for a harder rocking sound.  Change Everything might get a slight nod over Waking Hours as best overall album for the A&M years, but to me, Twisted is their "twisted' classic, to which the madness of Justin Currie comes into full fury glory, Bring Somebody Else they channeled their inner Crazy Horse among the ballads.  On original hearing Change Everything took a few listens to get used to, Gil Norton's production might be too polished but no doubt the songs do stand out from Be My Downfall, to the blues rock of Just Like A Man up to the Rolling Stones riff of The Ones That You Love Lead You Nowhere bleeding into the cowbell 123 of The Last To Know and even to the finale Sometimes I Just  Have To Say Your Name.  Which, in the end is their best studio album.

A long layoff after the failure of Twisted making a disappointing showing on the charts, the Dels came back with a whole new lineup, only Currie, Harvie and Andy Alston remained from the previous album and Some Other Sucker's Parade tried to return back to the glory days of Change Everything, while the title track and Not Where It's At managed to hit the radio, the rest of the album was a hit and miss, Mark Freegard's production wasn't a very good fit, and David Bianco's mix job was even worse.  A&M wasn't exactly promoting it either, they were in the process of being brought out by Universal and Universal really showed a lack of caring.  But even if it's their lesser of the US A&M albums (2002's Can You Do Me Good never saw a US release) there are still some decent songs that could have been better had they been recorded better (Medicine).  Sensing a end to things, Universal put together Hatful Of Rain, a 17 song best of which gives us the best songs and two new songs, one is the crappy Cry To Be Found, a very bad attempt for radio airplay but failed miserably, the other Don't Come Home Too Soon a much better song which was adopted by the Scotland soccer team in their world cup appearance.    Justin Currie would later follow that the the outtakes Lousy With Love (B Sides compilation) soon afterward.  A&M would then edit Hatful Of Rain with the uneven 20th Century Masters Collection.  Hatful Of Rain, The Best Of The Dels is a uneven mess but perhaps the best overview of what they could do, and makes a valid point that they were a good singles band, but the inclusion of Here And Now and Cry To Be Found drags this down a bit. But if you find it for under two dollars its worth a listen or two.

After Can You Do Me Good, Justin Currie pretty much retired the band and has gone solo, most of the albums worth a listen but without Iain Harvie kinda lacks the spirit and focus of the Dels.  That said, in the late 80s and early 90s Del Amitri was the alternative to hair metal, although Justin Currie's sense of humor might have labeled him a punk rocker in a pop aritst's skin. They might have missed the boat in New Wave in 1985 but in 1989, they found their mark in Scottish rock and pop.  And for their effort, got a radio classic with Roll To Me as well.


Del Amitri (Chrysalis 1985)  B+
Waking Hours (A&M 1989) B+
Change Everything (A&M  1992) A-
Twisted (A&M 1995)  A-
Swimming With Your Boots On-Live Dels (Oxygen Import) B+
Some Other Suckers' Parade (A&M  1997) B+
Hatful Of Rain-The Best Of Del Amitri (A&M 1998) B+
B Sides-Lousy With Love (A&M Import 1998) NR
20th Century Masters (A&M 2002) B
Can You Do Me Good (A&M 2002) NR