Justin Currie, What Is Love For (Rykodisc, 2007)

Del Amitri fans are ecstatic that Justin Currie, former band front man, has released his long-awaited solo effort What Is Love For—even if the album is a rather glum affair. Glum it is…but brilliant.

Most of the album deals with the emotional stages which ensue romantic breakups: from thwarted desire to lament, anger, disillusionment and detachment. In a long-held Currie tradition, the final number, “No, Surrender,” is a wordy litany of condemnation of the ills of modern society, with a cynical conclusion: “Should you stand and fight, should/ you die for what you think is right/ So your useless contribution will be remembered?/ If you’re asking me I say no, surrender”—so, the bitterness continues, taken from personal concerns to the level of social consciousness. However, Currie’s is bitterness with substance, carried along by gorgeous pop melodies; call it “pop with an attitude,” if you will. Currie is a songsmith in the tradition of the Beatles, and his indebtedness to John Lennon shows through, especially in “If I Ever Loved You.” He is also one of the most clever and inventive lyricists of our time and carries this all off with that soothing and yet deeply emotive vocal quality which is immediately recognizable to those who appreciate his music.

Currie is a versatile songwriter, although much of his varied work has gone by relatively unnoticed. Bouncy tunes like “Roll to Me” and “Always the Last to Know” (still quality pop material) and romantic ballads such as “Tell Her” and “Be My Downfall” made Del Amitri known to the public; however, the Dels could also seriously rock out and were great with folk rock, country-tinged ballads and, later, electronica—which even most hardcore Dels fans didn’t know what to do with (now there are live recordings of favorite Del Amitri standards on their My Space page. After the Dels’ last effort Can You Do Me Good? (2002) was not released in the U.S. and the band was dropped from Mercury Records, Currie and band mate Iain Harvie continued to write and record material, but they ultimately disbanded—at least for the time being. Currie then, as he says, basically got drunk for a few years, but he also worked with fellow Scotsmen Jim and Kevin McDermott on hilarious tongue-in-cheek pop satire, as The Uncle Devil Show, and he collaborated on the soul project Button Up. In the meantime he put together his own material, aided by friends like Harvie, as his fans monitored his progress on My Space.

Currie is a man of contradictions. He loves to foster a cynical and arrogant public persona, and nowhere does this come through better than in “Still in Love”:

Lovers leave their traces like
Jets across the sky
They find in each others’ faces lines
They recognize
My keepsakes have their places—
At the back of a drawer or slipped between pages and stuck on a shelf
But I’m still in love with nothing
But myself.

However, in person he’s quite gracious to his fans, and he’s shown this at recent shows he’s played to intimate crowds in the UK, New York and Los Angeles. On the limited-edition autographed lyric sheets which were delivered to the first 500 people to purchase his new album, Currie signed his name with a smiley face: five hundred smiley faces from the man with the acid wit, who staunchly prohibits emoticons on his My Space comments—now who is the real Justin Currie: a poseur or hypocrite? His fun is, most likely, in keeping the public guessing.

Not all is gloom and doom on his new album; there are lessons learned through relationships gone bad:

Maybe I was not the one
But I had to try
And in the end there’s no such thing
As wasted time

I was the interim between
Nothingness and him,
So how is that a crime?

Nothing, however, brings this collection of songs to the point of levity; evidently, Mr. Currie got his jollies out with The Uncle Devil Show’s A Terrible Beauty, in 2004, as he sang of cross dressing and his love for Gilbert O’Sullivan. Those who know Justin know that his marvelously dry sense of humor will surely reemerge on the next album, or so—or in sidesplitting My Space blogs. In the meantime we can all deliciously wallow in sorting out past disappointments and mining the question “What Is Love For?”

What Is Love For, released by Rykodisk, can be listened to in its entirety and purchased through Lala.com on Justin Currie’s My Space page. It will be available in U.S. stores on October 23.

Reviewed by Rachel Wifall

1 comment:

nickynu said...

just the most amazing cd I ever heard- stunning