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Can You Do Me Good
Artist: Del Amitri
Length: 12 tracks
I am sure if you looked up Del Amitri in the Latin it would mean “songs about regretful broken hearts and dark cultural observations, journaling humanities spiral downwards towards meaningless demise.” Well Del Amitri are back and there is nothing new in the pages behind the cover but where, in music, the cover is the musical context where the words live then this is not like your common or garden Del boys’ album.
Anytime I’ve seen Del Amitri I’ve come away asking how good they would sound if Justin Currie’s intricate and clever songs, particularly his lyrical guile, were not drowned beneath guitar strutting Iain Harvie’s fetish to look and sound like Lemmie from Motorhead. Indeed, I remember over hearing a post gig conversation, as someone was waxing lyrical about the addition of the aforementioned Lemmie to the band! It just seemed a clash of visions. Maybe it was their vision.
Can You Do Me Good might suggest that they heard me or that Currie copped on. However if you have heard Eileen Rose’s album Long Shot Novena where Harvie and bandmate Kris Dollimore play and produce maybe it’s Harvie who has metamorphosed. The guitarist is so clean cut and neatly hair dressed in the band photo that there is no danger of him being asked for Lemmie’s autograph and in some ways the sound has had a similar transformation. Harvie is more noticeable by his absence on the opening track and first single, the soulful "Just Before You Leave." The guitar is elsewhere restrained or sampled and looped and there are off skew drum beats and rhythms and the little flurries of noises and surprises that leaves "Can You Do Me Good" much neater, more modern and a lot more sophisticated.
The book itself is the same old story. The great thing about that same old story is Currie’s genius at delving into love’s poignant hidden depths and there are a few soulful gems of heartbreak here that never sounded so achingly beautiful. I can remember one time nursing my own shattered heart with huge doses of "Everything Changes" and almost becoming quite satisfied that my pain allowed me to better trawl the wonders of that most cynical of love albums. "Just Before You Leave" is archetypal as is "Buttons On My Cloths," and "Out Falls the Past." It is how he makes the more simple truths of love’s great breakdown so literary and real.
If there is anyone better at this art than Currie it might be Bob Dylan whose "Blood On the Tracks" is always seen as the paradigm break up album. In some way you wish that Currie was equally famous as you would love someone to trawl through his garbage and write the biographies that would fill in the details around his romantic history. What or who has caused his regret, remorse and despair. Even when he seems to be throwing himself at love all positive in "Baby It’s Me" there is a sense that it is in vain and without hope.
Stepping away from love and trying to find some distraction in the world around them and Del Amitri draw a blank again. "Cash and Prizes" suggests like many before them that fame or wealth is neither who we are or makes any sense of why we are here and the nihilism heads towards apocalypse in their "Last Cheap Shot At a Dream." There seems to be a past to forget about and not much chance of change in the future but the resignation that the future is where we’re headed anyway. The final track "Just Getting By" is an older "Nothing Ever Happens" seeing no point or meaning or sense in the existence of man. Where some of us who grope towards a transcendent hope would say that without a vision the people perish Del Amitri doesn't even believe that there can be a vision and luck is the only hope for a better day.
So what about God? Well "Jesus Saves" gives much reason for optimism and it is optimism from a very orthodox Christian perspective:
Jesus saves the homeless on the streets
But then there is a caustic and cynical twist to the tale…Each verse ends with a anti-Christian backlash:
Jesus saves, saves the pure and leaves the rest.
Well he can’t save you unless you're one of us
Jesus gives so he can watch the people squirm and sink.
Jesus saves all the cruelty that ever made him real.
Jesus saves you from thinking,
It is heavy stuff and there are two things going down, plain misunderstanding of faith coming from a misinterpretation of faith that seems to come from so called believers he only takes the pure, you must be one of us, non thinking lemmings. On the other hand then it seems that their only way of reading the sufferings of Christ is to see him as someone who wallows in his or anyone else’s pain. If that was the case of course Del Amitri would owe Jesus everything because pain is what they build a career around. Indeed it is maybe what makes them “real.”
In the end the sound still meets that image that first presented them to the nation way back in 89 in the "Nothing Ever Happens" video. It is sideburns sitting on steps strumming their philosophies. And the steps could be those of any Glasgow Church where the Del boys are searching for truth to ease their pessimistic apathy of all that is driving past them but sadly they are put off climbing a few more steps to enter the Church. The steeple above them is provoking questions but those who climb over them to worship God are leading them to conclude that there are no answers there.
Steve Stockman 5/8/2002