Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Stone Cold Sober Scottish Success Story

During the course of 1991, Justin Currie took time to pen another collection of songs, not to mention letting his sideburns and locks grow wild. Whilst Currie re-emerged in the early 90s as an unlikely leftwing sex symbol, Del Amitri re-emerged a stable and confident musical collective, but would their new album continue the band’s recent rise up the rock ranks.

For the first time in their history, Del Amitri’s line-up remained stable during this period, fronted by Currie, with his right hand man Iain Harvie, Andy Alston, David Cummings, and Brian McDermott all on board for the recording of the 1992 Gil Norton produced album ‘Change Everything’, released in June of ‘92. The lead out single ‘Always The Last To Know’, was a sharp edged tale of infidelity, accompanied by a radio friendly, if middle of the road, pop-rock musical companion, that delivered a solid start to the next chapter in Del Amitri’s career. The single peaked at #13 on the U.K. charts mid year, and reached the top forty in both Australia (#40) and the U.S. (#30). Del Amitri hit the road again over the northern summer of ‘92, criss-crossing Europe and the U.S., and consistently playing to packed houses and venues that were bigger than the lads had courted previously. The gentle folk ballad ‘Be My Downfall’ (UK#30/OZ#90) was lifted as the album’s second single mid year, and once again Currie addressed the issue of infidelity (something playing on his mind perhaps?), though from a slightly different stand point. All the while, the immaculately crafted album ‘Change Everything’ continued to rack up impressive sales. It had peaked at #2 on the British charts shortly after release (held at bay by Lionel Richie’s ‘Best Of’ at #1), and reached #31 in Australia (US#178), whilst spawning two more British top thirty singles, ‘Just Like A Man’ (#25), and ‘When You Were Young’ (UK#20). Whilst albums sales in the U.S. had dipped for ‘Change Everything’, Del Amitri confirmed their status as a major drawcard with an appearance on the bill for ‘Woodstock 2’ in 1994, at which drummer Ashley Soan guested on the skins in place of Brian McDermott, who had opted to leave the band.

During ‘94, Del Amitri also returned to the recording studio to work on their next album, with Chris Sharrock (drums, Ex-Icicle Works/World Party - see earlier posts) the only change in studio, since ‘Change Everything’. The production was as sharp as ever on ‘Twisted’, released in February of ‘95, this time with Al Clay at the helm. Truth be told, Del Amitri didn’t take too many risks with this one, and most of the material stuck to fairly safe, even well trodden, ground, though the electricity bill may have been slightly higher than previous, more acoustic focussed albums. That’s not to say there weren’t some quality offerings to be had, such as the lead out single ‘Here And Now’ (UK#21), a Currie/Harvie composition - one of several on the album. Evidence that Del Amitri still commanded attention in the U.K., was the fact that ‘Twisted’ bolted to #3 on the album charts within weeks of its release (US#170). ‘Driving With The Brakes On’ might be a neat trick but I wouldn’t want to write a song about it - no wait, I mean it might be neat to write a song about, but I wouldn’t want to try it as a trick. At any rate, the second single lifted from ‘Twisted’ managed to travel to #18 on the British charts, despite the brakes being on. Somebody must have lifted their foot off the brakes for Del Amitri’s next single ‘Roll To Me’, which became their first to roll into the U.S. top 10 (#10/UK#22). Clocking in at just two and a bit minutes, and full of infectious jingle-jangle Byrds-style guitar, ‘Roll To Me’ was the perfect radio hit, and it’s hardly surprising it became Del Amitri’s only official top ten hit. The slow tempo acoustic track ‘Tell Her This’ (UK#32) closed out an impressive 1995 for Del Amitri. The ‘Twisted’ album proved to be the final outing for guitarist David Cummings (who shortly after completing the U.S. leg of a world tour, left to pursue a career in TV scriptwriting), and the only project to involve drummer Chris Sharrock (who declined an offer to join permanently).

After a period of relative stability in their playing roster during the first half of the 90s, Del Amitri returned to a state of turmoil during the second half of the decade. Jon McLoughlin replaced Cummings on guitar, whilst Ashley Soan was invited to return, this time for studio duties on the band’s 1997 album ‘Some Other Sucker’s Parade’. Released in July ‘97, the album notched up Del Amitri’s third top 10 in Britain (#6/US#160), but aside from the 60s style jangling-guitar pop offering ’Not Where It’s At’ (UK#21), the only other track to hit the singles chart was the predictably acerbic title track (#46), late in ’97. For some reason (known in truth only to themselves), A&M withdrew the planned second single ‘Medicine’ from release, which no doubt took a bit of wind out of the band’s sails, or sales even. With ‘Some Other Sucker’s Parade’ Currie and Co. stuck pretty much to the same melodic guitar driven pop-rock of recent efforts, but managed to retain a freshness all the same. Shortly after the album’s completion, both McLoughlin and Soan split from the band. Del Amitri recruited Kris Dollimore (guitar) and Mark Price (drums) to fill the vacancies for their subsequent touring schedule over 97/98.

Apparently acting against the best advice of their long term manager Barbara Shores, Del Amitri recorded the mournful ballad ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’ as the official Team Scotland song for the 1998 Football World Cup. It arguably owed much of it’s UK#15 peak position to rabid Scottish football fans. Shortly after Del Amitri released the much warranted ‘Best Of’ album ‘Hatful Of Rain’ (UK#5), released in some markets as a double CD, alongside the companion album ‘B-Sides - Lousy With Love’. It contained all of the usual suspects from the band’s major label years, and also featured the new single ‘Cry To Be Found’ (#40), which warmly welcomed listeners to the ‘Hatful Of Rain’ set (actually it was kind of a Lenny Kravitz sounding track, - a hint of a future soul influence). Del Amitri had been picked up by Mercury Records, following the demise of A&M, but it would be four years before their first album of original material surfaced on their new label.

Though it wasn’t openly planned as a swansong album (and may yet prove to be otherwise), 2002’s ‘Can You Do Me Good?’ had somewhat of a last hoorah feeling to it, even down to having a track titled ‘One More Last Hoorah’. According to guitarist Ian Harvie, Mercury had piled the pressure Del Amitri to have a hit album, or else! The lead out single ‘Just Before You Leave’ (UK#37) also had more than a hint of finality to its lyrical theme, as did ‘Last Cheap Shot At The Dream’. Currie once again handled principle song writing duties, aided by Harvie on the first single, and though it was unmistakably Del Amitri in nature, the album extrapolated that hint of soul evidenced on 1998’s ‘Cry To Be Found’, with a subtle soul vibe permeating throughout several tracks, along with a bit more of a high tech edge to instrumentation. ‘Can You Do Me Good?’ achieved a very respectable #30 on the British charts, but it wasn’t the blockbuster album that Mercury had requested, and so once more Del Amitri found themselves a band without a stable, of the label variety that is.

Following a successful U.K. tour, in support of ‘Can You Do Me Good?’, Del Amitri pretty much fell off the edge of the world (that’s how we at the ‘Flat Earth Society’ prefer to express things). Rumours surfaced, as rumours so often do, that Currie, Harvie and Alston kept on recording under the moniker of The Uncle Devil Show, something the band themselves have naturally denied via their official website. After an extended period spent writing and recording, Justin Currie released his debut solo album ‘What Is Love For’ during 2007. It’s unclear if the final curtain has been lowered on Del Amitri’s career, but regardless, what Currie & Co. have achieved over the course of their journey, though short of a deluge of chart success, has to add up to more than a hatful of rain.

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