Ten years ago, a guy I went to college with lent me this album, the major-label debut by a quartet of little-known Scots. The tape remained in my cassette player for the next four months. Straight. After I had kept him at bay for weeks, the guy finally broke into my dorm room and reclaimed the cassette. I wound up with a dubbed copy that contained as much background noise as music. Thus ensued a decade of fruitless searching. I routinely rifled bargain bins and interrogated record-store managers, all for naught. The album was not to be found, and for good reason: Chrysalis discontinued it a few years after its 1985 release.
Del Amitri eventually resurfaced on a new record label, A&M, and has released a trio of well-received discs. The recent success of the latest, Twisted, finally compeled Chrysalis to reissue the group's long-lost first effort. I consider this to be a personal Chanukah gift from God. The album is a masterpiece of pop craftwork A music that rises on incandescent melodies, tightly marshaled instrumentation, and sparsely poetic lyrics. All ten cuts are instantly catchy, but complex enough -- both in musical and lyrical progression -- to linger without growing tiresome.
At the center of the mix is Justin Currie, the dour bassist/singer who is Del Amitri's driving force. Currie was still in his teens when this record was released, and his husky tenor manages to convey all the angst of adolescence without falling back on emotional cliches. On "Sticks and Stones Girl," a poison arrow aimed at an ex, Currie yelps, "All the girls in the world/Were distorted and deformed/When your first breath was let loose/And my jealousy was born." With precocious candor, the quietly dignified "Keepers" takes stock of the damage men do to women: "And it's ironic that he told you/He'd never let you go/When he left you used up/And disturbed."
Currie's confections fall neatly into two categories -- ballads and anthems -- with Iain Harvey's shimmering guitar leads weaving the appropriate mood, and drummer Paul Tyagi offering both strong-armed assaults and gentle taps on his cymbals. "Crows in the Wheatfield" finds its inspiration in a famous van Gogh canvas, while "Deceive Yourself (In Ignorant Heaven)" relates an unabashed love story that manages to avoid the maudlin, thanks to Currie's relentlessly wry sensibilities.
After a decade of pining, I feel blessed to be able to enjoy this record of high-grade pop without crackles and hisses. But I'm keeping my pirated tape as well. Even a lousy recording of this record is a sublime experience.