Despite being misunderstood by some, the band Del Amitri are much-loved by many, as evinced by their longevity and the fact that they continue to make albums that sell. Here's a discography of their albums to help you navigate your way through a decade and more of Del Amitri music.
Del Amitri (1985)
For die-hard fans or '80s nostalgia junkies only, Del Amitri is loved by some fans, and completely disowned by others. Avoid it unless you find it in a bargain bin - which is probable - and can't resist the temptation to fill the hole in your otherwise complete Del Amitri collection.
Certainly the production is pleasant and the band performs the songs with aplomb, but the lyrics are difficult to hear and are spouted so fast that it's almost impossible to link the band's sound on this album with the more relaxed, and frankly much more mature sound of later albums.
One for completists only. Moving swiftly on...
Waking Hours (1989)
The Dels' breakthrough album, Waking Hours contains some cracking songs, though it feels a little like a transitional album (which, of course, it is). The two singles 'Kiss This Thing Goodbye' and 'Nothing Ever Happens' are wonderful, and for the first time it's possible to hear Justin Currie's lyrics - a good thing, seeing as he's an excellent writer.
Del Amitri's lyrics are typically about the more depressing end of life - failed love affairs, addiction, boredom, abortion and plenty of other laugh-a-minute topics - but although the subject matter is far from uplifting, the lyrics are so dry that they manage to be intelligent social commentaries rather than simple bedsit depression. Consider the following excerpt from 'Nothing Ever Happens':
Bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs
While angry from Manchester writes to complain
About all the repeats on the TV
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
Other highlights include 'Move Away Jimmy Blue', a song about getting away from the claustrophobia of smalltown life, and 'Empty', which includes the delightful lyric:
You've been seeing S.O.S.
When it's just your clock reading 5:05
The consistency of later releases isn't present, though, and some of the songs are weak (the chorus from 'Stone Cold Sober' goes 'Stone cold sober, looking for bottles of love', which is hardly a lyric to set the world on fire). However, the high points are high indeed, and Waking Hours shows Del Amitri building up their own sound.
Change Everything (1992)
A much more consistent set than its predecessor, Change Everything is a mature album that takes the vibe of Waking Hours and basically does it better. The singles 'Always the Last to Know' and 'Be My Downfall' aren't so much the stand-out tracks as indications of the standard of the entire album.
'Just Like a Man' talks about the pain of losing your girlfriend to someone else, but hides the pain so well under a pumping guitar-riff-laden pop song that it's only when you sit down and listen to the lyrics that you realise the chorus twists the song's title beautifully:
And just like a man he holds you gently
And just like a man he strokes your hair
And just like a man I still pretend that I'm
Immune to the whole affair
Meanwhile 'The First Rule of Love' tells of the delights of falling in love... and the hurt of falling out of it the other end; and 'As Soon as the Tide Comes in' is about a wedding... but one where she's marrying someone else, not you. Yep, the lyrics are dark and moody, but these are pop-rock songs, and that's just one reason why this album kicks the proverbial. Recommended.
Don't judge this album by the sickly-sweet pop tune 'Roll to Me' - that song, despite it being Del Amitri's biggest US hit to date, is not remotely typical of this hard-edged album. The aptly-named Twisted showcases some of Justin Currie's most miserable lyrics, while Iain Harvie's guitars are brought to the front and given some serious attitude.
From the outset, 'Food for Songs' rocks violently, helped considerably by some savage harmonica from Frazier Spiers, and 'Start With Me' kicks straight in with a hard-rock riff and booming drums. The rest of the album continues in a similarly raw-edged vibe, with these lyrics from 'Crashing Down' summing up the happy-happy-joy-joy aspect of Twisted:
And it might not be important to you now
When the night is young and you are loose and loud
'Cos there ain't no sound in party town
Quite like loneliness crashing down
However the highlight of the album - and arguably one of Del Amitri's best songs - is the beautiful 'Driving With the Brakes On', a simple story of a couple's journey home following an abortion. The lyrics are atmospheric, to say the least, and despite a whole song devoted to the strain of living with the knowledge of 'the thing we've done', it ends on a relatively positive note (well, positive for Del Amitri, anyway):
But unless the moon falls tonight
Unless continents collide
Nothing's gonna make me
Break from her side
It's pure poetry, and rounds off a fascinating album.
Some Other Sucker's Parade (1997)
If you ever actually pick Some Other Sucker's Parade out of the bargain rack, the chances are your reaction to the cover will be 'Urgh!' And who can blame you? It depicts Justin and Iain, both looking like they need serious lessons in personal grooming, standing in front of the most repugnant wallpaper you can imagine. Add in the fact that the wallpaper is peeling and the photo has been folded up, scored, and reproduced with that 'reclaimed from the bin' feel, and you've got a cover that screams 'Don't buy me!'
This is a travesty, because Some Other Sucker's Parade is arguably Del Amitri's best album to date. The raw edge of Twisted is replaced by a much fuller sound, and there's a more consistent feel across the whole album, probably because of the short recording schedule. Again there's a spread of styles from ballads to country rock to pop to harder rock, but this time the album feels like an album rather than a collection of individual songs, and this makes it excellent listening.
Songs such as 'No Family Man' and 'Lucky Guy' take up the mellow end of the spectrum, the latter featuring Iain's low-range pedal steel guitar to great effect. The title track is a rocky little number about drowning your sorrows, while 'High Times' is a scathing attack on the neo-hippy pretentiousness of bands like Kula Shaker, who at that stage hadn't turned into self-parody.
Finally 'Make it Always be Too Late' closes the album on the happy note of sitting in a bar at the end of an all-night session, and dreading the start of the new day. Some Other Sucker's Parade is the best marriage of dark lyrics and pop-rock that Del Amitri have produced; highly recommended.
The Best of Del Amitri: Hatful of Rain (1998)
All the singles are present on Hatful of Rain (the title is taken from one of the songs on Waking Hours) and for first-time Del explorers, it's a worthwhile investment. Luckily this album (and the accompanying Lousy With Love) conveniently ignore the debut album, and although this might annoy those who like the mid-1980s sound, it's a smart move.
Instead we get the best songs from all four albums, plus 'Spit in the Rain' from the 1990 EP, a new song 'Cry to be Found', and the World Cup song 'Don't Come Home Too Soon'. It's a great way to find out what the fuss is all about.
The B-sides: Lousy With Love (1998)
Normally collections of b-sides are interesting only for a couple of tracks, but Lousy With Love is a cracking little album in its own right. Although there's obviously no consistency across the album (it'd be worrying if there was, seeing as this spans ten years of b-sides) some of the songs are up there with the best tracks off the albums.
Sure, 'The Verb to Do' and 'Long Way Down' owe an awful lot to 'Driving with the Brakes On' (though it's such a good formula it's well worth repeating), but 'In the Frame' and 'The Last Love Song' prove that Del Amitri write wonderful love songs, and on 'Sleep Instead of Teardrops' the band drags in a string section to really schmaltz it up - and they pull it off!
If proof were needed that Del Amitri have talent to spare, it's that fact that their b-sides sound as good as their singles. That's quite a feat.
Del Amitri Websites
There are two official Del Amitri sites, each with its own flavour. They're your best bet for all things Del, and there are more than enough rabid fan sites dotted around, if that's your scene.
Official US Del Amitri Site - Previously known as Alison's Del Amitri Homepage, this became the official Del Amitri site in the mid-1990s, and has recently undergone a major facelift. You'll find all sorts of goodies here, from band information to lyrics to tour details, and it looks great.
Official UK Del Amitri Site - As Alison's Homepage was quite an American-flavoured site, the UK site (this time run by an amenable chap called Kevin) became the second official Del Amitri site back in 1999. Here you can find another well laid-out site, complete with a comprehensive FAQ, details of the Del Amitri mailing list, and lots of intriguing bits of trivia.