Bittersweet Del-lights

Just because the music of Scotland's Del Amitri is tuneful and accessible doesn't mean that the group's lead singer, Justin Currie, is shy about expressing himself. He fires off his opinions straight up, with no chaser.

Examples? In Currie's words, the neo-hippie movement that, from a commercial standpoint, is hotter than the engine of a broken-down microbus, leaves him "cold, shivering and angry--because it's just a waste of space. All of this end-of-the-millennium superstitious crap that seems to be coming out of everybody's mouths once they have a couple spliffs is a vile mess" that "blinds people from actually looking into the future and seeing something good there or seeing something that can be changed, you know?" As for classic rockers who've hung on past their primes, he notes, "I'm of two minds about all that kind of stuff. If you talk to people like Van Morrison or even James Brown, they'll tell you, 'This is what I do. This is my gig. I'm not any good at anything else.' So I think bands like the Rolling Stones have every right to grow old disgracefully in public and just keep doing their thing and get worse and worse at it if people are gullible enough to go and pay money for it. They've got every right to keep doing their job--but we've also got every right not to go see them and not to buy their records."

Such talk can come back to haunt an artist--particularly one like Currie, whose band was formed in 1983. But he doesn't back away from his comments. Del Amitri has lost two of its original members (guitarist David Cummings and drummer Brian McDermott) to family and other commitments, leaving Currie and guitarist Iain Harvie to carry the torch. But Currie insists that a reunion holds no interest for him. "Hopefully, we'd never get suckered into that," he says. "I think that would be painfully depressing. Somebody once said that nostalgia is the saddest of all emotions, and I would definitely go along with that. There's nothing worse than having that physical ache that you get when you're trying to attain the past."

Such sentiments might seem surprising coming from a man whose musical specialty is the making of lush, melancholic ballads about romantic relationships in the process of failing. But according to Currie, he's not the type of guy given to pining for lost loves while spinning Michael Bolton albums. "I'm always warning people against making the mistake of judging people by their work," he cautions. "Just because somebody designs incredibly erotic, sadomasochistic leather gear doesn't mean to say that's the kind of sex they like. And just because you write love songs that are all about heartbreak and all that sort of stuff doesn't mean to say that your heart gets broken every week or that you've led an angst-ridden, tortured existence. It probably just means that you've listened to a lot of country-and-Western music, which I have."

Currie and Harvie put this influence to good use on Some Other Sucker's Parade, Del Amitri's fourth album for the A&M imprint and fifth overall. But other touchstones are more unexpected. Currie confesses somewhat sheepishly that the album's lead single, "Not Where It's At," came to him after viewing an episode of The Simpsons in which a character complained that he used to be where it was at until somebody moved it from its prior location. "High Times," on the other hand, is a thinly veiled attack on phenomena such as Dionne Warwick's "Psychic Hotline" that succeeds largely because Currie's high, husky baritone is built more for insinuation than bombast. Equally tasteful are the riffs and lead licks delivered by Harvie, which keep the disc sounding buoyant despite Currie-penned narratives so complex that a set of Cliffs Notes is necessary to understand some of them.

The literate nature of Del Amitri's work has inspired raves in publications as disparate as Musician and Mademoiselle. But Currie is also interested in reaching non-journalists--and as such, he's disappointed that the group isn't more popular. "I think that, essentially, we're a mainstream band," he explains. "And if you're a mainstream band, the only thing that really justifies your existence is being successful." Although the combo has scored a handful of radio hits dating back to 1990's "Kiss This Thing Goodbye," Currie points out with characteristic self-deprecation that "there are bands that people think of as cult bands that sell twenty times as many records as we do."

In an attempt to reverse this situation, Del Amitri has allowed its music to be used for promotional purposes by virtually anyone who can afford to pay the group the customary $1,000 licensing fee. However, such arrangements have been known to backfire. "I went to see Fargo in New York when it came out," Currie reveals. "And believe it or not, they had a trailer for Flipper before Fargo, God knows why. And one of our songs, 'Roll to Me,' came on deafeningly loudly." He admits, "I was deeply appalled by this stupid, big mammal, and I had to run out of the theater in embarrassment. Not that anyone would have known it was me. But I have to say that Flipper did look like an astonishingly bad movie."

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