Hammering Hearts

They set up their equipment in the house's enormo dining room, Harvie relates, and when he and/or Currie had an idea for a song, the band would convene to work on it. By way of example, he explains that he and Currie collaborated on the chiming "Here and Now" and the affecting ballad "One Thing Left to Do," while Currie wrote the mostly acoustic "Tell Her This" solo on guitar, then brought it to the band. In all cases, Harvie notes with a touch of that aforementioned sarcasm, his partner shuts himself away to compose the lyrics: "He's kind of precious about them." As for the music, the setting and setup resulted in a bigger, rockier, more immediate sound on several of the songs, with Harvie, notably, getting demonstrably frenzied on guitar during the outro to "Being Somebody Else."

"Maybe we should release 'Being Somebody Else' as the next single," he jokes. "I can see these radio station people run screaming from that -- it's like six minutes long and about taking drugs. I don't think they'd be interested at all."

Probably not. And yet the song functions as the album's sonic set piece, building gradually, almost imperceptibly, as Currie depicts a hollow contempo lifestyle -- "How are you going to pass the time of day/In your beautiful empty shell/When you've shaken the hands of so many sinceros/You feel like a fake yourself" -- and then finally erupting into an aural tsunami with Harvie spraying stinging shards from his guitar. It probably figures prominently in the band's live performances. Ditto Currie and Harvie's bracing, midtempo "Crashing Down," wherein Justin paws through more emotional wreckage, wielding some of his most blistering lyrics to date: "And you might not think about/Just what happens now as your guests collect their coats./In an empty house full of ashtray doubts/Your formless future floats."

Mighty adult stuff, and a long way from the country-tinged folk-pop of del Amitri's self-titled 1985 debut, which they larded with agreeable songs such as "Sticks and Stones Girl." In fact, del Amitri's obsessive adultness on its three most recent albums, its resolute fatalism on the nature of romance, perhaps have made more than a few people, including U.S. radio programmers, squirm (cf., fellow traveler Elvis Costello's travails while traversing similar territory). But with the relatively recent advent -- and nascent ratings success -- of AAA radio in the U.S., bands such as del Amitri and like-minded songwriters (Aimee Mann, for instance) may have discovered a career lifeline.

"We've always had a fair amount of radio airplay with a couple of songs off the last couple of records," Harvie points out. "But now I think people are starting to be aware of who's making these songs."

Del Amitri and opening act the Caulfields perform a 10:00 p.m. show on Sunday, August 20, at Marsbar, Town and Country mall, Kendall; 271-6909. Tickets cost $10.

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