Monday, 29 June 2015

DEACON BLUE: When The World Knows Your Name

(#384: 15 April 1989, 2 weeks)

Track listing: Queen Of The New Year/Wages Day/Real Gone Kid/Love And Regret/Circus Lights/This Changing Light/Sad Loved Girl/Fergus Sings The Blues/The World Is Lit By Lightning/Silhouette/One Hundred Things/Your Constant Heart/Orphans

No doubt Ricky Ross considers himself as a sort of Alan Spence of pop, telling small stories about small victories and bigger metaphorical losses in a land where expressions like “wages day” are still used and whose people are still called things like Fergus. He is also righteously and rightfully angry about what his country and its people might turn into, as one listen to “One Hundred Things” will confirm, with its call to every “Jimmy” in the gutter to rise up and fight back.

The trouble is that the music has to rise to meet the spirit of the word, and too many times on this album it doesn’t, or buries the word beneath tasteful echoes of murmur. These songs sound expensive, and stifling; whether their subject matter is Maria McKee (“Real Gone Kid”) or the Spanish Civil War (“This Charming Light”), they get drowned out by restraint. The accelerando at the end of “Queen Of The New Year” leads to nothing, a step back which isn’t really erased by the extended, but fatally tasteful, feedback fade of “Your Constant Heart.”

Neither do I find Ross’ voice particularly endurable; most of the time he sounds like Paddy McAloon in severe need of Strepsils, and he has an uncomfortable growl, somewhere between Eden Kane and Barry McGuire, which, when used in extremis (“SHATTERED HOUSE!” in “Love And Regret,” the sudden upward ski-leap at the end of “One Hundred Things”), does not make him Samuel T Herring’s spiritual father.

What so much of this music does make Deacon Blue, unfortunately, is a direct precedent to the likes of Mumford and Sons; the majority of these songs play shamelessly to the stadium gallery. Attempts to rock out (“This Changing Light”), do Jam and Lewis (“The World Is Lit By Lightning”) or do the Blue Nile (“Sad Loved Girl” – truly, Hats and Paul Buchanan’s voice and feelings are everything this record and its singer aren’t, and let’s not even mention entry #386 – for now) end in the same compromise. I know Ross is enraged, and justified in being so, and have no idea about Michael Marra’s musical tastes, but the “sweet soul music” part of “Fergus Sings The Blues” – all about owning the “right” records, rather than the ones which touch you (the B-side of the “Real Gone Kid” single included covers of songs by Sam and Dave and Hüsker Dü; such “correct” choices that might provoke a scream) – could be said to represent the turning point where prosperity would be superseded by austerity.

Next: The first of our occasional short breaks, where we look at an album that isn’t on the Wikipedia list.

1 comment:

Dominic said...

"Raintown" had been, to me, a delight of an album - a loving, affectionate, angry, passionate, realistic portrait of the city of my father and many of my relatives. In places some of the lyrics seemed overwritten (or in the case of the delightful American-influenced "Chocolate Girl", just strange), but overall the range of styles and sensitivities demonstrated showed a band of some performing and writing capability.

The follow up (indeed, from the release of "Real Gone Kid" as a single, which did the pop radio sound, got the top 10 hit, but...) seemed, largely but not entirely, to fall victim to record-company-investing-in-and-overshaping-their-hot-recent-signings syndrome, which did seem to be quite a thing at the very end of the 80s, and even more in the early 90s (It wasn't the last time Deacon Blue were affected by it, either). (One notable exception, where it worked, but didn't get the commercial success it might have warranted, despite the album being available in large quantities in every Woolworths I visited - Black's "Comedy"). A little too much rocking out, a little too much of the quirkiness (Lorraine McIntosh's sometimes annoying backing vocals excluded) removed. The one track on this album I can still come back to, time after time, and still love and appreciate is "Love and Regret". which retained the subtlety that - well had gone, above all on most of the other singles from this album.

So while I was pleased to see Deacon Blue at no 1 - for whatever that is worth - I wish it had been with "Raintown", a far more consistent and appealing work, not this.