The Best Of Del Amitri: Hatful Of Rain

Del Amitri

A&M Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The music game has always been a crapshoot. No matter what strategies an artist employs to try to grab people’s attention, there’s a slim to zero chance you will ever get noticed. It’s part of both the allure and the frustration of the gig—there’s just no predicting what’s going to find an audience and what’s going to disappear into the ether.

A Scottish quintet with a vaguely Italian name, Del Amitri is a band that many might regard as a one-hit wonder. And truthfully, 90 percent or more of the people who think they might have heard that name, but aren’t entirely sure, will light up like a Roman candle when you sing the chorus of “Roll To Me.” (“Oh yeah! Those guys!”) The group’s one true international hit single reached #10 on the US pop charts and #22 in the UK with its ebullient energy and impossibly sticky chorus hook.

What this collection makes clear to a casual fan like yours truly is how much more there has always been to Del Amitri, and how well their slow-burn, hard-earned, long-term success is deserved. “Long-term success?” Well, yes: the Dels—who continue to cloak the origins of their made-up band name in playful vagueness—have been active for most of the last 40 years and remain a going concern today, with a lineup that continues to revolve around singer-songwriter-bassist Justin Currie and his musical other half Iain Harvie, guitarist and occasional co-writer. Andy Alston has been on board since the band added a keyboard slot in 1989, and while the other two positions have been somewhat of a revolving door over the years, the current lineup boasts returnees Ash Sloan (drums 1994-97, 2013-present) and Kris Dollimore (guitar 1997-2002, 2013-present).

Del Amitri’s musical approach has rarely wavered over those 40-odd years; they consistently deliver smart, energetic songs that meld the cheeky sophistication of Crowded House and Squeeze with the power-pop drive of Teenage Fanclub and The Rave-Ups. This collection offers a thorough, and thoroughly entertaining, introduction to a group that many of you out there have likely heard of without ever really getting to know.

The one new song recorded for this 1998 collection covering the band’s first five studio albums is opener “Cry To Be Found,” a blue-eyed soul number with enough of Currie’s superb falsetto to make you think of Prince, backed by sharply arranged strings supplementing the bass-guitar-drums-keys core. Without further adieu, they roll into the rousing, exuberant “Roll To Me,” a top-notch pop song with bounce, a singalong chorus, and an elastic arrangement with superb guitar work supplemented by synths and percussion adding their own little sonic hooks. Even the way they double the vocals only on the words “roll to me” is perfect; this song is the definition of ear candy, a tune where every single element is exactly where your ear wants it to be.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From there, the boys plow through their back catalog delivering tunes that draw a wide range of elements into their basic pop-rock framework, from country blues (“Kiss This Thing Goodbye” features harmonica, acoustic slide and banjo) to edgy blue-eyed soul (“Just Like A Man”) to mournful ballads (the melancholy “Driving With The Brakes On” is a standout). For every tune that feels like their take on classicist power pop (see the propulsive “Not Where It’s At” in particular), there’s a counterpoint like the yearning, ambiguous, vaguely creepy “Always The Last To Know” (a #13 hit in the UK, though it barely cracked the Top 40 stateside). One minute they’re pushing into XTC territory with the earnest, philosophical “Nothing Ever Happens,” the next they’re pushing those AOR buttons like they’d really rather be The Babys (“Here And Now”).

Still, the best of the rest is probably “When You Were Young,” a coulda-shoulda-been hit whose gentle mid-tempo acoustic verses build to an anthemic electric chorus before falling back, and which features sharp lines like “The disappointment of success / Hangs from your shoulders like a hand-me-down dress.” One thing Del Amitri has done right over and over again is to craft fresh and often inventive arrangements designed to reinforce the mood and themes of each song, keeping any solos tight and focused.

While there’s a lot to like on this jam-packed 68-minute collection, not everything here works as well as the big singles. To name two, “Spit In The Rain” features cheesy ’80s synth tones and a lyrical conceit that doesn’t quite work, and “Stone Cold Sober” tries too hard for clever and ends up sounding silly and somewhat generic.

Fortunately they close out this collection with three strong tunes. The rather woozy “Be My Downfall” features banjo, slide, and accordion as Currie offers this melancholy come-on: “Be my downfall / Be my great regret / Be the one girl / That I'll never forget / Be my undoing / Be my slow road to ruin tonight.” The title track from 1997’s Some Other Sucker’s Parade is a big-boned rocker whose crunchy riffing never gets too heavy in this self-deprecating drinking song. And then closer “Don’t Come Home Too Soon”—written as the official theme song for Scotland’s 1998 World Cup team—serves also to cement Del Amitri’s underdog identity with strings, mandolin, and tambourine framing Currie’s resolute and rather wistfully optimistic lyric: “Go then out into history and show them how easy it can be / You might not believe it, yeah, but pretty soon you’ll see / Even longshots make it.”

They do. Del Amitri is a band that’s never stood out in any particular way other than the persistent application of considerable talent to songwriting, arrangements, and performance. They know who they are, and with Hatful Of Rain, demonstrated convincingly that they are much more than that one song that everyone remembers.

Rating: B+

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