Justin Currie, The Great War (Ryko, 2010)

There can be no doubt that The Great War is a Justin Currie creation. It is populated by songs which reflect classic Currie style, from his standard thematic preoccupations to recognizable chord progressions and modes of orchestration. While patterns may be discernable to a long-time Del Amitri and Justin Currie fan, however, their presence does not reflect artistic weakness—for the Currie hallmark is a guarantee of quality.

Currie throws pop culture a bone with his opening number “A Man With Nothing to Do,” a well-crafted, upbeat tune with refreshingly unpretentious lyrics which progress from ennui to hopefulness: “Let the years go by, let the daylight die/ I can’t think of anything to be/ The planes in the sky, the lines in the road/ Human hands make everything you see/ And if you keep busy in your mind do you think / you’ll see this through?” The final pronouncement of this song is the most unabashedly romantic statement of the album: “I’m a man with nothing to do / But wait around to fall in love with you.”

“Can’t Let Go of Her Now” is another peppy number featuring a classic Currie dilemma: this speaker is reluctant about his need for a particular relationship; while the melody is straightforward, however, the lyrics are poetically sophisticated, even if they do echo a certain Beatles’ tune: “Just don’t tell her I would die if I let her slip away/ Let her think I’m resigned/ Like those drying clothes just hang onto the line.” “At Home Inside of Me” also features a simple upbeat tune supporting complex imagery which, in this case, is rather surprising and morbid at times. The persona behind this song imagines the multiplicity of human experience residing within himself, as in the following quote, which may be one of the most wonderfully bizarre images to appear in pop music: “Armies of children and ghosts of suffragettes/ Make merry in the cauldron of my chest/ Bodies dumped in ditches and stowaways at sea/ They make themselves a home inside of me.”

“You’ll Always Walk Alone” is a rousing tune which jadedly undermines the intention of rousing tunes such as Carousel’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (also an English football anthem); here there is no god and human connections are limited: “Arm in arm and hand in hand, tied together with a wedding band/ Tethered to the line between the phones/ Remember you’ll always walk alone.” The song works well as a bleak reflection on human isolation, but Currie perhaps compromises this vision with a final verse which feels tacked on to appease listeners: “And alone every night you walk through my mind/ There we go, you and I in tandem all the time/ Our cover’s blown, now it’s all talk/ How you always walk alone.”

“Anywhere I’m Away From You” and “As Long as You Don’t Come Back” are what I will call classic Currie “good riddance to a bad relationship songs,” while “Ready to Be” represents the “I’m really a bad ass” genre. “The Fight to be Human” is an extended meditation on the woes of the world, which has become a standard feature of Currie’s ouevre, although this song does not simply repeat the ideas of its precursors such as “Nothing Ever Happens” and “No, Surrender”; this epic points inward as well as outward, considering how the author has tried to deal with the mess that is human life, unabashedly admitting “I hate the world they gave me.”

“The Way that it Falls” and “Baby, You Survived” feature gorgeous string orchestration of the kind witnessed on Currie’s first solo album “What is Love For”—but by far the most interesting track on this album, musically speaking, is “Everyone I Love.” The title is misleading, for this song is not about love at all; it continues the idea from “Ready to Be,” that “I’m ready to be the devil they’ve been seeing in me,” as the speaker plans to unleash pent up hostility and play a twisted emotional game which people sometimes play: “Tonight I’m gonna hurt everyone I love/ just to see if they love me/ I’m gonna run around running off my mouth,/ be as cruel as I can be.” “Like Dr. Frankenstein I’ll let the monster walk/ from the cellar to the town” is an appropriate image, as the complex rhythms and dark sounds of this number feel like a tango in a haunted house. With its terribly honest lyrics and meaty electric guitar, “Everyone I Love” is a guilty pleasure of the first caliber.

The Great War is indeed about war: strife between people in romantic and familial relationships, the struggle to make sense of the world in which we live and to be a “good person,” the desire to express one’s feelings, even if they are not palatable to all. In this album Currie has once again shown that he is a solid tunesmith and transcendent lyricist who is not afraid to think and engage deeply with the “dark side,” even under the false guise of a harmless pop album.

Remaining 2010 US Tour Dates for The Great War:
06.17.10 - New York, NY, Joe's Pub
06.18.10 - Boston, MA, Paradise
06.19.10 - Philadelphia, PA, Tin Angel
06.20.10 - Washington, DC, Jammin’ Java

reviewed by Rachel Wifall

"You'll Always walk Alone"

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