Chrysalis Records, 1985
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/08/2001
One of the most difficult things about reviewing early works from any artist is trying to view those albums in the context of the time they were recorded in... and not allowing their latter-day work to shape your view. Sometimes, I succeed; other times, I fail miserably.
In the case of Scotland's Del Amitri, it's really hard to forget about the bulk of their catalog when listening to their 1985 self-titled debut. It's almost like listening to two different bands - and I really hate to say it, but I like the "newer" version better.
Justin Currie and company aren't the pop-rock balladeers they became starting with Waking Hours their first time around. On Del Amitri, they sound a lot like R.E.M. meets The Cure - and it's not always the prettiest sound. Sure, you've got Iain Harvie's guitar's jangling like Peter Buck, rarely dipping into barre-chord land. But balanced with this, you've got Currie spitting out stream-of-consciousness vocals that sounded more like the Unabomber's rant. Currie hadn't quite developed a powerful style of singing yet, so tracks like "Heard Through A Wall," "Crows In The Wheatfield" and "Sticks And Stones Girl" have about as much weight as a feather in a tornado.
In all honesty, these tracks could have been improved with one or two minor changes. Maybe if Currie had dropped such a repetitive chorus on "Crows In The Wheatfield" it could have been a better track. Maybe if the style of music hadn't been so new-wave (though, gratefully, not a la Devo) these would have been a little easier to swallow. But the sad fact is, they aren't - at least not in this incarnation.
Only the closing track, "Breaking Bread" holds out any hope for Del Amitri. More in the pop-rock vein than any of the nine preceeding tracks, Currie and crew sound like they finally hit a level of comfort musically, and they truly shine on this one song. Too bad it comes right at the end - but one could argue it left hope for the band's next outing... four years later.
Maybe Del Amitri was the kind of album that Currie and crew needed to get out of their systems early on in the game. Maybe this really is a picture of a band looking for a distinctive style and voice, and finding out their search was to continue. Whatever the case, if you pick this one up hoping to hear early versions of "Roll To Me"-like songs, you're going to be in for an unpleasant shock. This one is for the die-hard fans only... and, since it's out of print at the time I'm writing this, good luck finding it.