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Second Heart Thrills: Del Amitri’s “Fatal Mistakes”

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If someone tells you to not think of a shark, no matter what bullshit you tell them you’re thinking of, in your head it’s shark, shark, shark.

The brain, it turns out, is kind of a rebellious punk—tell it to do one thing and it deliberately does another. So when Del Amitri’s Justin Currie  reminds you on the opening track of his band’s new album Fatal Mistakes, that you can’t go back, your response most assuredly will be, Wanna bet?

But Currie is steps ahead of you—he knew you’d say that and not only that, he also knew you’d try it anyway, no matter what the first song on Del Amitri’s first new effort in nearly twenty years was about. So he cuts you off at the emotional pass, knowing full well his voice will instantly transport you to wherever on the Del Amitri timeline that was most pivotal in your life. Maybe Waking Hours soundtracked your twenties; maybe at seventeen “Always The Last To Know” was your mix tape superstar; maybe “Some Other Sucker’s Parade” was your ’90s battle anthem. Whatever. Currie knows you’re going to go where you go and when he tells you that you can’t go back, he also knows you’re likely going to give it your best shot.

Not only is it one of the greatest meta moments in rock and roll history, it also happens to be one of the best album openers in recent memory.

Well played, lads.

“The past beats inside me like a second heart,” the novelist John Banville once wrote. But for most of us, that second heart has always acted as the primary absorber of what thrills us. In other words, all the stuff we feel seems to register there and rings all the bells the intellectual brain doesn’t hear. And because of that, we tend to weigh the past more heavily than the present and we reside there more than we probably should.

Turns out it’s not easy being a person.

Nevertheless, Del Amitri are back, sounding like barely twenty minutes have passed since we last heard from them, let alone twenty years. Justin Currie’s croon is time resistant and flows, bites and soars with unreasonable and majestic ease. Meanwhile guitarist Iain Harvie plays with more muscle and finesse than anyone else in the business. On Fatal Mistakes we find a band that’s simply adding another winning entry into their already winning discography and no matter where your past relationship with them was most impactful, a whole new set of memories, life experiences, triumphs, tragedies and disasters now have musical accompaniment.

Front to back perfect, Fatal Mistakes is a feast of high points. There’s the lilting “Mockingbird, Copy Me Now,” the sly shuffle of “Missing Person,” and the dark and stunning ballad “Otherwise,” which, impossibly, manages to be both misanthropic and humane at the same time. It manages the tricky balancing act of wondering if one has missed out and if there’s anything to miss out on in the first place.

The answer to that, by the way, seems to be: Probably and no.

Those three numbers alone are evidence enough that Currie is one of the best songwriters on the planet—his work is literary, urbane, clever, and heartbreakingly precise. This is one of the most quotable albums you’ll likely ever run into. Whether it’s “prodding at the little fire on my phone” or “posing like starlets in bullet-proof vests,” Currie’s compositions are like a dreamy and caustic combination of Noël Coward and Mark E. Smith.

On the hit single “It’s Feelings,” Currie’s smooth delivery rolls with wisdom and grace as he grapples with the concept that feelings lead us to both our failures and our rewards and to avoid them would be tempting but probably foolish. After all, what’s a life without its suckerpunches and its riches? As we all know, that would be no life at all because without the contrast of highs and lows, darkness and light, it would all be one steady blur of big nothing.

Currie opens the number by declaring: All the raindrops in the air/Come make a river through my hair/Come down and drown me/I don’t care/’Cause it’s feelings/That cut you/It’s feelings
I can’t bear…”

Of course Currie knows that feeling is first—he’s not wrestling with that; in  “…trying to make some sense of why you can’t see straight,” he’s addressing what comes next. In other words, what comes after.  Feeling gets top billing, sure, but what are we supposed to do with all that stuff once we feel it? You climb to the mountain and then you climb back down. You paddle out into the surf and then you paddle back in to the shore. But feeling comes with no instructive linear loop—you feel things and they bring you to your knees and there’s no timeline for when you get to stand back up.

So what do we do?

Well, you know the answer to that. Either you’re in or you’re out. And a word of caution: if you’re out, you’re WAY out. Like The Beast in the Jungle out. As Henry James wrote: “It wouldn’t have been a failure to be bankrupt, dishonoured, pilloried, hanged; it was failure not to be anything.”

An equal failure is to feel nothing.

As Currie says: “It’s feelings/That put you there/All the sickness, all the bruises/All the shit that no one chooses/Bring it on in its disguises/I’ll take the knockouts with the prizes…”

And how can we not talk about “Close Your Eyes And Think Of England”?

Delivering the most doleful of openings, Currie sings: “Day by day/We’re winnowing away/At the kind of world/The heathens had their eyes on.” In Johnson’s England and the aftermath of Trump’s America, it’s hard not to argue that in the past few years the Empire has closed in pretty thoroughly, leaving the rebellion utterly bereft and picking at the bones of the world they used to know.

It has not been pretty.

And Currie’s initial look back is a painful reminder of what used to be amidst the demolishing waves of political savagery crashing on every shore they can get their nasty boats to land on. But every political savage has his own enemy and that enemy is time. And even the most casual thumbing through of a history book teaches us that no leader lasts, nobody lives forever and nobody who crushes people for a living gets to do so without being crushed themselves in the end.

So when Currie sings: “Blow by blow/There’s gonna be a show/We’re gonna teach the goons the who is who of history…” it’s hard not to think of handcuffs being slapped over Trump’s wrists, Johnson being laughed out of office, the universe resetting itself at last. Retribution can sink even the sturdiest of vessels and when Currie adds: “Close your eyes and think of England/That boat afloat all alone on the ocean is sinking,” it’s practically a live Tweet of a capsizing empire.

“Close Your Eyes And Think Of England” has all the spirit of a sea shanty, all the woebegone observations of a captain reading the darkest of tides and a chorus that will pick the locks of any heart and saturate the soul with the thought that everything is going to be all right but it’s going to take some time.

Of the song, Currie has described it as, “Our European valediction, a ballad of pure bile and remorse, sweetened by a sledgehammer of sarcasm.” And while “Close Your Eyes And Think Of England” is just that, it’s also impossibly catchy–a swooning lullaby that’s as wicked as it is poignant. And who else but Currie and the Dels could deliver a track that’s redolent with the sweetness of revenge and the bittersweet sting of nostalgia? This is a fight song in the clothes of a ballad; it’s got as much fire in it as anything on London Calling or Never Mind The Bollocks and it brings to mind Robert Louis Stevenson’s reminder that, “The saints are the sinners who keep on trying.”

Speaking of trying, I challenge any band to best the Dels when it comes to closing an album. From “Nothing Ever Happens” to “Driving With The Brakes On,” Del Amitri have always been champion closers.

And the last act on Fatal Mistakes proves that’s a title they’ll be keeping.

The album’s endpiece is the nearly eight-minute opus “Nation Of Caners.”  A number that takes a long look at all we ingest to distract ourselves from the daily ills of quotidian life, “Nation Of Caners” is a cascading indictment of modern culture that falls somewhere between Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Pulp’s “The Fear” and Arab Strap’s “Fable Of The Urban Fox.” Its an endless and alliterative waterfall of pure poetic momentum and it’s nothing short of a stone cold stunner.

“We’ve got a taste for space/And need to fill the void with chasers/Need to drink to our disgraces,” Currie observes. And if Blur were right and modern life truly is rubbish, “Nation Of Caners” suggests it’s likely worse than they thought and we tend to numb that fact through drinking, drugs and general distraction.

Because let’s face it, if we can stay numb enough for long enough, we’ll lose all feeling for what we didn’t want to feel in the first place.

Now there’s a strategy!

Fatal Mistakes is as searing as it is soothing—it’s a thrilling battlecry from true pop warriors who are free from the past, crushing the present and riding fearlessly into the future.

You’d be well advised to follow.

The current incarnation of Del Amitri is: Andy Alston, Justin Currie, Kris Dollimore, Iain Harvie and Ashley Soan.



Fatal Mistakes

1. You Can’t Go Back
2. All Hail Blind Love
3. Musicians And Beer
4. Close Your Eyes and Think of England
5. Losing The Will To Die
6. Otherwise
7. It’s Feelings
8. I’m So Scared Of Dying
9. Mockingbird, Copy Me Now
10. Missing Person
11. Second Staircase
12. Lonely
13. Nation of Caners