Del Amitri

TrackAlbum
MedicineSome Other Sucker's Parade
Here And NowTwisted
Wash Her AwayCan You Do Me Good?
Surface Of The MoonChange Everything
The Return Of Maggie BrownLousy With Love: The B-Sides
No Family ManSome Other Sucker's Parade
Hatful Of RainWaking Hours
It Might As Well Be YouTwisted
Just Before You LeaveCan You Do Me Good?
Move Away Jimmy BlueWaking Hours

Del Amitri photo 1

Del Amitri (c1995 l-r): Andy Alston (keyboards), Iain Harvie (lead
guitar), Justin Currie (bass, vocals), David Cummings (guitar)

 

 

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Del Amitri playlist

 

 

 

Contributor: Preston Williams

Someone always seems to be leaving in a Del Amitri song. Or thinking about leaving. Or isn’t leaving but probably should. There’s a nagging one-foot-out-the-door romantic restlessness that winds through one of the most rewarding – and deceptively deep – pop-rock catalogs of the 1990s.

During a six-album run, front man/bassist Justin Currie wore his fidgety heart on his record sleeve: Kiss This Thing Goodbye. It’s Never Too Late To Be Alone. Just Before You Leave. A lip-locked Currie (or song character) casing the exits is like Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover spread out over a three-and-a-half-decade career instead of just a three-and-a-half-minute song.

The most jarring Del Amitri exit came in the early 2000s, when the band itself disappeared, dropped by its label. Currie has released four winning solo efforts since, but a reconvening with guitarist Iain Harvie, a fellow Scot and the other Del mainstay, is welcome news in 2021. The band is set to release Fatal Mistakes, its first album since 2002, in May.

Del Amitri never officially broke up and has regrouped in recent years for the occasional short tour. The band rattled off five Top 10 albums in the UK and 15 Top 40 singles (curiously, none reached the top 10) but did not fit in with grunge, Britpop or any other contemporary scene that possibly could have lifted its profile. Too bad. Currie and the underappreciated Harvie, craftsmen both, deliver songs so well-written and sturdily constructed that it can feel like the way they created them is the only way they should exist.

Currie combines a studied appreciation of McCartney’s ear and Lennon’s bite in his explorations of the nooks and crannies of relationships in all stages of development and demise. At the same time, he sneaks in songs with sharp social commentary. Religion and avarice are frequent punching bags.

Before we delve into the picks, can we agree that Del Amitri is an awful name for a band? They’re not a person. They’re not a platter of cold cuts. The name is not much of anything, really, but it’s confusing and off-putting. Who? What? Yet bands in search of a name could plumb Del Amitri lyrics and unearth any number of memorable monikers, among them Ashtray Doubts, Bevy of Devils, Confetti Hearts, Juggernaut Roar, Silent Movie Moon and Swoons of Delight. The songs are meticulous and enduring; the band name is slapdash and just a jokey bastardization of the name ‘Dimitri.’ Not even a good story. It’s frustrating, really.

On to the picks: My list bypasses Del Amitri’s self-titled 1985 debut, an overstuffed post-punkish indie affair that lacks the structure and immediacy of their subsequent albums. The band has ghosted these songs for decades in setlists and on compilations, so I don’t feel bad about ghosting them here.

 

After by-the-seat-of-their-pants touring and traveling in the States supporting that album, eagerly absorbing American musical influences, Currie and Harvie (main)streamlined their creative process, resulting in the varied and sophisticated Waking Hours (1989). Loping opener Kiss This Thing Goodbye set the lyrical template for the next decade-plus, but the choices here for me are the small-town suffocation of a ne’er-do-well in Move Away Jimmy Blue and the wistful Hatful of Rain, a jubilant folk-rock gem with a two-minute outro that captures the band at its early pastoral best.

By the way, a hat (devoid of moisture) tip to the clever opening lines of Empty: Don’t get so distressed/ If the good life won’t arrive/ You’ve been seeing SOS/ When it’s just your clock reading 5:05. Trying too hard? Perhaps, but I give points for that, particularly to songwriters who were in their early 20s at the time.

The 1992 release Change Everything yielded high-infidelity hit Always The Last To Know, a tune-with-a-twist that author Stephen King singled out to Rolling Stone in 2016 as the song that moves him the most. “It’s so goddamn sad,” he said.

If King likes wallowing in that one he should dial up Waking Hours’ Nothing Ever Happens, a stacking of bleak declarative statements, with the conclusion that We’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow. It is to futility what Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World is to life’s simple pleasures. A sampling:

And by 5 o’clock everything’s dead
And every third car is a cab
And ignorant people sleep in their beds
Like the doped white mice in the college lab …

And computer terminals report some gains
On the values of copper and tin
While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs
For the price of a hospital wing

My choice off Change Everything (1992) is the sweeping Surface Of The Moon, with its dramatic unfurling that triggers the dry ice machine in my head every time I hear it. One of their many songs that refer to moons and tides, my take is that it’s about how the passage of time can make the once magical and familiar foreign and charmless, be it old haunts or a former flame:

So on the ancient trails of our coupling in the places we used to meet
I am amazed by the lack of memories
that I thought would flood through me
And the riverside where we first kissed has now been reduced
To a phony old-world market where only shoppers get seduced

 

The band’s fourth album, 1995’s Twisted, continued the momentum, but I thought in spots it tried a bit too hard to rock. Not to the point where you’d imagine Sister after the album title, but in a contrived way nonetheless. One favorite is the live-in-the-moment slow-burn car ride Here And Now, which builds up to one of Currie’s most stirring falsettos. I also picked It Might As Well Be You, an aching update of Stephen Stills’ Love The One You’re With, rife with regrets past, present and future and featuring one of Harvie’s most expressive solos.

And by the light of cigarettes,
we introduce ourselves a way you don’t forget
I’m looking for something and anything will do
So hey babe it might as well be you

That song is right at home on an album with tracks that seem to be about abortion (fan favorite Driving With The Brakes On), suicide (One Thing Left To Do) and exploitation of tragedy (Food For Songs). Thankfully, the chipper grocery store/dentist office staple Roll To Me – the band’s lone top 10 hit in the States – provides two minutes of levity. Roll To Me is to Del Amitri what Stacy’s Mom is to Fountains of Wayne – terrific in context, and even representative in some respects, but unfairly defining.

I fell hard for 1997’s Some Other Sucker’s Parade, my favorite Del Amitri album (at least today), although it could use some pruning. From the souped-up Raspberries-ish confection Not Where It’s At, to the ambivalent lover’s guilt of What I Think She Sees, to the TV theme in search of a TV show Life Is Full, this album is Del Amitri at its hookiest, with balladeering intact.

One of my Sucker choices is Medicine, a cathartic stab at the elusiveness of emotional recovery and reinvention that should have been blasting out of car speakers the world over. A deep cut of particular note is No Family Man, an example of Currie tweaking an existing song title like he did with Not Where It’s At and I’m An Unbeliever, and, from his solo work, You’ll Always Walk Alone and No, Surrender.

While Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and Paul Simon fussed over their daughters in song, and John Lennon boasted about his “beautiful boy,” Currie bravely declared: Kids? Who needs ‘em? It’s astonishingly honest even if you don’t share his view:

Have you got something to prove with your own little you?
Have I wasted my time, cut through the family line?
In the race to life, I am an also-ran
But I’ve run enough to know I’m no family man

Del Amitri has a ridiculous number of top-shelf non-LP tracks, many of which have since been corralled for the 2014 reissues of Waking Hours, Change Everything and Twisted. One that appeared on their 1998 B Sides: Lousy With Love collection is The Return Of Maggie Brown, with a raucous fiddle punctuating a day in the life of a young woman chewed up by the city. How this and so many other ear-pleasing tracks never made it onto a proper album is a testament to the quality of what did.

In 2002, Del Amitri threw fans for a loop (and a sample) with Can You Do Me Good?. To me, this is their Achtung Baby. They marinated the songs in electronic flourishes that plowed new sonic ground and accentuated a dark and at times tastefully trippy song cycle, kicked off by the slinky soul groove and organ bleeps of Just Before You Leave:

Does your appetite for novelty still burn,
And do you pick a fight, just to feel the heat of his concern?
Do you still misbehave, then beg for his reprieve,
And do you love to feel his needy hands, pulling at your sleeve?

My other pick here is Wash Her Away, a manic mouthful from an addicted suitor, delivered in an obsessive, stream-of-consciousness sneer:

Eyes like a slash across her face
Lips so damn sweet you’d cut your tongue out for a taste
Whatever this stuff is, I’m buying, if she’s nothing but a coffin
Least she’s good enough to die in
She’s a ballroom full of dancing chairs she’s a child in disguise
Hiding bullets in her hair …

In retrospect, Can You Do Me Good? songs like Last Cheap Shot At The Dream and One More Last Hurrah might have hinted that the end was near for Del Amitri. I tried to do my best, but I guess your best don’t last for long, Currie assessed in the elegiac closer Just Getting By.

Given the industry indifference and stagnant fan base in the early aughts, you can understand why Del Amitri said an abrupt goodbye, just like so many of its protagonists had done in memorable three-minute bursts over the years.

Their revolving door is our heavy rotation.

 

 

Del Amitri photo 2

Del Amitri now

Del Amitri “Fatal Mistakes” – release date: 14 May 2021

 

The Official Online Home of Del Amitri

Justin Currie’s website

Justin Currie solo releases

Del Amitri News (Facebook Group)

These Are Such Perfect Days: The Del Amitri Story
– by Charles Rawlings-Way (Urbane Publications 2018)

Del Amitri YouTube Channel

Del Amitri on Cooking Vinyl

Del Amitri Interview (1995) – VH-1 Features (YouTube)

Del Amitri biography (Apple Music)

Preston Williams lives in suburban Washington, D.C. A former Washington Post staff writer, he has an innate band-name detector, remains fascinated by the alphabetical symmetry of a Sheryl Crow/Crowded House bill he once saw, and bristles at musical spelling/word choice atrocities like September Gurls and Must of Got Lost. Stir him from Twitter slumber @PrestonWms.

TopperPost #940

7 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Mar 7, 2021

    Seems, if this topper is any indication – and I’m positive it is – that Del Amitri (yes, a terrible name), is much more than ‘Nothing Ever Happens’. It was the only song I knew of them. It was memorably trashed by Australian ex-disc jockey Doug Mulray, who after playing it said ‘That song was by whingers. Now for some Robert Cray playing real music – blues’. Apart from the fact that I thought ‘Nothing ever happens’ a great song, I thought Doug had missed the blues in the song.
    I”m looking forward to hearing the rest of these a couple of more times, at least.

    • Preston Williams
      Mar 7, 2021

      Thanks for giving it a read, David. It struck me as odd that they would have a handful of top-10 LPs in the UK but no top-10 singles. Your comment makes me wonder if Nothing Ever Happens overly defined them in some markets just as Roll To Me did in the States. Too many great songs to be typecast, that’s for sure.

  2. Keith Shackleton
    Mar 7, 2021

    Preston, thank you for doing this Topper. I don’t know if Merric let you know but I was up for it doing it for an absolute age, and had the wonky idea that I would write it from the point of view of the man in the songs, reflecting on his life, without mentioning any of the songs. Far too ambitious for one who can procrastinate as much as I can.
    We don’t overlap on the songs much, but you do mention plenty of mine. For the record: Kiss This Thing Goodbye, Be My Downfall, Here and Now, Tell Her This, It Might As Well Be You, Driving With the Brakes On, In the Frame, In the Meantime, Not Where It’s At, What I Think She Sees. There was a time in the mid-90s when high quality songs streamed out in a rush, like shelling peas. B-sides the strength of most bands’ singles, and some left unrecorded, so many were there, all giving rise to one of the greatest albums of the 90s in Twisted. And if you like a middle eight, well, as we know, these would be the fellas to listen to for a middle eight.
    Thanks again.

    • Preston Williams
      Mar 7, 2021

      Thanks much for giving it a read, Keith. Wow, your premise would have been a novel way to go about it for sure….I like your top 10 as well. What I Think She Sees was a late cut for me, replaced by No Family Man. It’s such brave territory for a songwriter that I wanted to squeeze it into the 10.

  3. Calvin Rydbom
    Mar 9, 2021

    I’m guessing at some point I had Del Amitri on my list to Merric as well. I haven’t written much on here the last few years, but as I have a book due later this year I can feel the pull of writing anything else but the book pulling at me.
    But, and this is what I find interesting, I’ve never read a Toppermost of a band I really like who I would have swapped out about half the songs. Which makes me want to revisit your selections. I truly love Nothing Ever Happens and Driving With the Brakes On, Jimmy Blue, Spit in the Rain. Hell, I could do my own without listing any of your songs. Which I guess might be the sign of a great band?
    And I ordered the new album at my favorite record store a few weeks ago.

  4. Preston Williams
    Mar 10, 2021

    Thanks for giving it a look, Calvin. I could have picked a different top 10 that I would have been almost as happy with. The fact that my picks and some readers’ picks are vastly different I think does speak to the quality of the band’s output. I wanted to pick a top 10 before the new album comes out to avoid making a tall task even taller. Good luck with the book!

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Mar 11, 2021

      Hah, I like your reasoning Preston. I must say there have been occasional new album releases that have changed a toppermost I’ve written. I’ve managed to stave off the urge to rewrite a few because of new releases.

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