Published on March 14th, 2017 | by David Dring4
Classic Band Appreciation: Del Amitri | Art Without Bells and Whistles
How many greatest hits albums can you honestly say feature that artist’s best work? Off the top of my head I’d say The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac would be a good example. ABBA’s Gold and The Very Best of Deacon Blue would be good choices too.
But is it sacrilege as a music purist to connect to a greatest hits record? After all, a greatest hits record usually drops during the twilight of an artist’s career, usually after a number of studio albums have been released. Some see an artist releasing a greatest hits as a spent force, as a sign of going through the motions. But sometimes it can be seen as a legacy. For example, Queen’s Greatest Hits II is the 10th best selling album in UK Chart history. Oasis’ Stop The Clocks has gone 5x platinum in the UK and sold more copies than any Oasis record after 1997’s Be Here Now.
I should probably double back and explain how this links to Del Amitri.
My commute to work used to be sound-tracked by Mansfield 103.2 on the radio. As a local station, their playlists always had potential to be extremely eclectic when compared to the Top 40 drone-fest that is Capital FM. The tracks would span over six decades and during my 20-ish minute journey to work I could usually find at least two or three tracks I liked. During one particular month of 2016, one track was played an obscene amount of time, a track that my phone’s tracking app told me was “Always The Last To Know.” This track was an absolute belter, a fun snapshot of what was so good about 1990’s alternative rock. My mind was made up and I chose to dive into Del Amitri with all I had.
Del Amitri have actually released six studio albums since their inception in 1983, as well as three greatest hits compilations, but the one I decided to get stuck into first was 1998’s The Best Of Del Amitri: Hatful Of Rain. This album became the soundtrack to much of my time from then on, from menial tasks like chores around the house to when I needed background noise for writing.
I slowly began to get absorbed into each track and discovered I needed this record to function.
Hatful Of Rain features 17 tracks spanning Del Amitri’s 30+ years career, although a large chunk of them were released during their impressive run of three studio albums in the 1990’s.
Opening track “Cry To Be Found” was a new track recorded to accompany the release of Hatful Of Rain. It’s a soulful, contemporary tale of lead vocalist Justin Currie begging the love of his life to open her heart to him.
Perhaps the most recognizable track on the album is “Roll To Me” which reached No. 10 on the Billboard 100.
The video is absolutely batshit crazy, with each band member’s head superimposed onto a baby’s body and pushed around in prams.
The actual hook of the song is extremely infectious, showcasing Currie and Co’s ear for a tune. Glasgow-born Currie proves himself to be a very able vocalist, masking his Scottish accent with a strong American twang, which works very well on tracks such as “Kiss This Thing Goodbye” which would not sound out of place in an old fashioned dive bar.
One standout track from the record is “Nothing Ever Happens” which documents human ignorance and consumerism as never ending but ultimately meaningless activities. The songwriting is both incredibly witty and tongue in cheek, professing that “Martians could land in a carpark and no-one would care” because of people’s preoccupation with frivolous, material things. The song has a distinct Irish feel to it, possibly a factor of it peaking at No. 4 in the Irish charts in 1989.
The aforementioned “Always The Last To Know” appears next, my personal favourite track from the album. The delightful piano and power chord driven intro breaks into an infectious, poppy 4 minutes of forlorn musings of lost love. It’s a super fun track that simply wouldn’t survive if released today, due to modern music being so heavily scrutinized. It was so much different back then, with music being allowed to flourish on its own.
I have a lot to owe this track and I am eternally grateful for the airwaves presenting it to me when they did.
The quality doesn’t really let up on Hatful Of Rain, with a blend of gentle, acoustic ballads and delightful pop rock following the opening six tracks. “Driving With The Brakes On” has since been covered twice, first by Canadian country artist Doc Walker and then by Australian singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers. It’s a simple ballad centered around the feeling of being emotionally stuck in a rut and not being able to fully express feeling, encompassed with the line “It’s hard to say you love someone and It’s hard to say you don’t.”
What Del Amitri do extremely well is create art without any bells or whistles.
There’s nothing flashy here and nothing is overdone, choosing instead to have confidence in their own songwriting and musical nouse. There is more than one way to skin a cat and likewise there is more than one way to craft a catchy rock song, evidently proven by Hatful Of Rain.
Del Amitri are still active today and as recent as 2014 reunited to play a huge show at Glasgow’s Hydro, as part of a tour that spawned a live album as a result. As far as Justin Currie is concerned, his career outside of Del Amitri has so far featured three studio albums as well as frequent tours of the UK.
As far as the band’s legacy is confirmed, I’m so glad the evergreen medium of radio gave me a band to be excited about, even if their best days are perhaps behind them. With more and more people are resorting to streaming apps such as Spotify to listen to music, Its very easy but also very cliché to say there is still a vast world of music out there we have yet to discover. In my case, it was that one song on the radio I’d always heard but never put a face to and when I did I was rewarded with a new favourite band. This isn’t the first time this has happened and I really hope it isn’t the last.