by Jeff Fiedler
Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.
You probably recognize the name Del Amitri, but you may not actually own any of their albums just yet. Though the Scottish rock outfit is much beloved over in the U.K., the band has notoriously had much less luck finding quite as big an audience here in the U.S., and they’ve just had three Top 40 hits in this country, the most famous being the 1995 Top Ten hit “Roll to Me,” which made waves on radio with its playful, sunny, acoustic vibe and its remarkably brief running time of just over two minutes, making it a throwback of sorts to the very concise pop song-craft of the early days of the British Invasion. Yet the band had a hard time crafting a successful American follow-up to that single, and after two more studio discs, the second of which didn’t even get released here, the band would split up and lead singer/primary songwriter Justin Currie would go on to a solo career, releasing three discs on his own before reuniting with his old band in 2014 for a U.K. tour. So how do their albums stack up? Are they as good as the band’s singles? Just read on, and let our own Jeff Fiedler, an avid longtime fan of the band, walk you through their catalog one disc at a time …
Del Amitri (1985, Chrysalis)
The album’s been somewhat forgotten to time, but long before the band ever started having hits in the U.S., they released a one-off album for Chrysalis Records in the mid-‘80s that’s very, very uncharacteristic of their later work. Currie and his indispensable guitarist and occasional co-writer Iain Harvie are thankfully already both in the mix, although Currie’s voice is much less instantly identifiable here than it is on any of their later albums for A&M and the band is considerably rawer, sounding far more here like early R.E.M. (and occasionally XTC or Prefab Sprout) than they do their later self. Yet the band’s potential is apparent, both in the band’s musical chops and in Currie’s songwriting, and while the songs are much more hit-and-miss than those offered on their later work, lacking the strong hooks and memorable choruses of the band’s later discs, there’s still some buried treasure to be enjoyed here for those fans who take the effort to track this one down, particularly the jangle-rock of “Hammering Heart” and the swinging “Sticks and Stones, Girl.” The songs won’t stick in your head nearly as easily as the ones that would come later, but the album sounds great while it’s on, and it’s an especially fascinating album to listen to if you wait to listen to this one until after you’ve picked up and listened to the others.
Waking Hours (1990, A&M)
A lot has changed in the five years since the band’s debut album: the lineup has changed (Del Amitri never would manage to record two consecutive albums with the same lineup), the band has left Chrysalis in favor of a new deal with A&M, and the band has significantly honed their chops as a recording act, no longer sounding anywhere near as raw as they did on their debut. Justin Currie shows some real growth, too, as both a composer and lyricist, and it’s hard not to marvel at his wordsmith skills on cuts like the cynical cityscapes of the folk-flavored “Nothing Ever Happens” or the lovely ballad “Move Away Jimmy Blue.” The new lineup packs some serious muscle on the mid-tempo rock of “Stone Cold Sober” and the soulful licks of “Opposite View.” But it’s the lead-off cut, “Kiss This Thing Goodbye,” that’s not only the catchiest song here but the most wickedly brilliant, a strangely commercial blend of guitar, piano, drums, banjo, mandolin, and harmonica that sounds like a terrible idea on paper but turns out to be one of the most underrated singles of the early ‘90s, its relentlessly happy stomp making for a perfect song to cruise around to in the car on a sunny day. The band would have even bigger – and equally catchy – hits in the future, but “Kiss This Thing Goodbye” might still remain the most creative single they ever concocted.
Change Everything (1992, A&M)
The batch of singles that came from this disc isn’t quite as strong as those from either of the albums that bookend it, but this album – which is arguably the most underrated breakup album of the ‘90s – stands as the band’s finest hour as an albums act not simply because the songs go so well together and that it’s almost impossible for anyone who’s ever been in a relationship to not relate to these songs in some manner, but because of the relentless hooks throughout and the fact that even most of the surrounding album cuts sound like they could have been singles in their own right. The album yielded the band’s second American Top 40 hit in the piano-driven adult-contemporary rock of “Always the Last to Know,” and there were several additional U.K. hit singles to emerge from this album as well, including the brilliant acoustic ballad “Be My Downfall,” the snarling, jealousy-infused guitar rock of “Just Like a Man,” and the sunny pop of “When You Were Young.” But it’s the brilliance of the surrounding cuts that really makes you stand up and take notice. Catchy though their melodies are, it’s hard not to be just as captivated by the lyrics, be it the sorrow Currie expresses in “As Soon as the Tide Comes In,” the insight of “The Ones That You Love Lead You Nowhere,” or the album-closing resignation of “Sometimes I Just Have to Say Your Name.” It’s a slightly sad album, to be sure, but the music is varied enough in mood and the melodies so strong that you needn’t be in a downbeat mood to want to listen to it and, lyrics aside, it never actually sounds like a depressing album, which makes it much different from your ordinary breakup disc.
Twisted (1995, A&M)
Twisted might boast the best set of singles of any of the Del Amitri studio albums. The sunny acoustic-guitar-driven pop of “Roll to Me” (which clocks in at just a little over two minutes) landed the group its first-ever (and, sadly, only) American Top Ten hit and remains their best-known song on these shores. The three other singles included here are quite different from – and nowhere near as up-tempo as – “Roll to Me,” but they’re every bit as good, however, particularly the slow-burning acoustic soul of “Here and Now,” which boasts a killer chorus which nicely and cleverly overlaps with the vamp-out vocals in the song’s final minute. The ballad “Tell Her This” is a brilliant and appealing slice of folk-pop consisting of little more than an acoustic guitar, an accordion, and an occasional bass fill. “Driving with the Brakes On” is the slowest ballad in the bunch, but it’s got an equally unforgettable melody and winning chorus and it’s got quite a few very cool arrangement touches, be it the Casio-like programmed drum loop that counts the song in or the off-beat snare hits that kick in during the song’s back half. What makes Twisted slightly less satisfying than Change Everything, however, is that the surrounding album cuts aren’t nearly as catchy this time out, though there are exceptions, namely the pounding guitar rock of “Start with Me.”
Some Other Sucker’s Parade (1997, A&M)
The second half of the album is admittedly not nearly as strong as the first, but then again, this album boasts what is easily the greatest first side of any of the band’s albums, and for a while, you think the hooks on this album will never let up, so why this album failed to produce another American Top 40 hit for the group is a bit of a mystery. The crisp power-pop of “Not Where It’s At” is the band’s most underrated single, a deliriously catchy slice of Beatleseque pop (recalling “Ticket to Ride” during its bridge and instrumental breaks) that would have sounded right at home on the radio next to the likes of Gin Blossoms or Semisonic. The down-on-my-luck title track, in contrast, is a bit more sludgy, but in a fitting way, and should have become a jukebox favorite at bars all over the country. “Won’t Make It Better” nearly sounds like a lost Dwight Twilley or Badfinger side and boasts some lovely harmonies and a really phenomenal bridge that would make even Lennon and McCartney jealous of not having thought up first. The ballad “What I Think She Sees” finally slows things down a little but boasts just as winning and memorable a melody, while the hard-hitting “Medicine” might be the cleverest lyric Justin Currie has ever penned and also boasts yet another completely show-stealing bridge.) The hooks dry up slightly after that, but the band saves one of its best cuts for the closing stretch with the jubilant sing-along romp “Life Is Full,” which is mildly reminiscent of the BoDeans hit “Closer to Free,” only better.
Can You Do Me Good? (2002, A&M)
Sadly not released at all in America and only available here as an import, the band’s most recent studio outing to date doesn’t quite live up to the remarkably high standards of the band’s first four outings for A&M, and the opening track, the organ-drenched pure soul of “Just Before You Leave,” might make some listeners worried at first that the band has made too radical a change to their sound. The band sounds more like their usual self quickly enough, however, and though the album’s a lot more experimental than Sucker’s Parade and gets off to a moderately slow start, Currie still shows on cuts like “Just Before You Leave,” “Out Falls the Past,” and “Last Cheap Shot at the Dream” that he’s retained his gift for composing solid melodies and winning hooks, and the middle of the album boasts two of Currie’s finest and most beautiful compositions yet in “The Buttons on My Clothes” (which is almost a musical fusion of sorts of the power-pop of “Not Where It’s At” and the melodic pop of “Always the Last to Know”) and the tender ballad “Baby It’s Me.” Tough though this album can be to track down on these shores, it’s worth the effort, especially to hear “The Buttons on My Clothes” in all its majesty.
While the band has put out so many breathtakingly brilliant non-singles over the years (particularly “Medicine,” “As Soon As the Tide Comes In,” “Life Is Full,” “Start with Me,” and “Won’t Make It Better”) that simply owning a greatest-hits package will truly deprive you of a chance to hear some of the band’s finest moments, Hatful of Rain: The Best of Del Amitri (1999, A&M) is a very well-done introduction to the band, sporting all the band’s most crucial singles, including all three of their U.S. Top 40 hits (“Kiss This Thing Goodbye,” “Roll to Me,” “Always the Last to Know”) and plenty more that should’ve been hits here, like “Here and Now,” “Not Where It’s At,” and “Tell Her This.” It also sports a very good and very tough-to-find non-LP single from 1990 (the Irish-flavored “Spit in the Rain”) and two new fine cuts, “Cry to Be Found” and the World Cup anthem “Don’t Come Home Too Soon.” [Some import copies were released in a boxed edition along with a second disc, Lousy with Love: The B Sides, comprised entirely of some of the band’s many fine flip sides from over the years, like “Long Way Down,” most of which unfortunately didn’t get released commercially in the U.S. and were only available, if at all, on promo singles.]