Saturday, 4 August 2018

Deacon Blue






"We all grew up in Scotland with a sense that the world happens elsewhere, and it doesn’t. That was one of the things that became very clear to me; that became very important. ‘No, we’ll make our own stories" - Ricky Ross

Raintown (1987)


Born In A Storm/Raintown/Ragman/He looks Like Spencer Tracy Now/Loaded/When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)/Chocolate Girl/Dignity/The Very Thing/Love's Great Fears/This Town To Be Blamed           

Deacon Blue’s widely respected debut album, from 1987, took a while, at the time, to seep into widespread acceptance. It was a year to eighteen months before many, including myself, came to learn to appreciate this excellent Scottish group.

Deacon Blue are a pretty difficult group to categorise - they are not rock, yet they have rock influences, use drums, keyboards and electric guitars. They are not soul, yet they often employ soul sensibilities and have Motown and soul influences. They are not punk, or new wave, or post punk. They are, actually, quite unique in many ways. Their influences are wide - Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Prefab Sprout, Elvis Costello, Motown, classic soul. Their lyrical preoccupations are Scottish life in general and the supposed toughness of it at times, relationship ups and downs and people’s psychological idiosyncrasies and the three cornerstones mentioned in their classic song, Dignity - faith, work and home.

Their two vocalists are now husband and wife - songwriter Ricky Ross and Lorraine Macintosh. The interaction between the two is an integral part of the group’s sound.

          
As for this album,  the classic bleak black and white panoramic cover of Glasgow’s docklands sets the tone for what is often a bleak, thoughtful album. The short, plaintive vocal track, Born In A Storm continues this tone, and it then segues neatly into the evocative and moody Raintown, which is just such a Glasgow/Scottish song. Great vocals from Lorraine on this one. The mood is lifted a little with the jauntier Ragman before the melodic and lyrically odd He Looks Like Spencer Tracy Now (a strange song about atomic bomb testing) then the inspiring Loaded, with its singalong, uplifting chorus.

Two excellent “relationship” songs are next - the soulful ballad When Will You Make My Phone Ring and the country-ish Chocolate Girl with its oblique lyrics.  Then there is Dignity, a magnificent, anthemic Springsteenesque song about a downbeat council worker buying a boat and sailing up the West Coast of Scotland. It is now a concert closer where the audience, again in Springsteen style, sings the first verse before Ricky Ross comes in and the whole place is bouncing. It is simply one of my favourite sings of all times.

The Very Thing is an upbeat, lively and optimistic love song and Love's Great Fears is similar, featuring a great slide guitar solo from guest Chris Rea. Ricky Ross has said this is his all time favourite composition. I had a friend at the time who had her ears pinned back to stop them sticking out. I serenaded her with “Love’s Great Ears”. You had to be there I guess.

The original album ended with the stark, morose and atmospheric accusatory This Town To Be Blamed, which sees Ross griping about urban life and adding some moans about the Scottish “dreich” - rain that just keeps coming down - “rain, rain, rain, down down down.... “. A bleak ending to what was at times a bleak album, but not one without hope hidden away somewhere.

Later editions of the CD album included the tuneful Riches and the poppy Kings Of The Western World.



When The World Knows Your Name (1989)


Queen Of The New Year/Wages Day/Real Gone Kid/Love And Regret/Circus Lights/This Changing Light/Sad Loved Girl/Fergus Sings The Blues/The World Is Hit By Lightning/Silhouette/One Hundred Things/Your Constant Heart/Orphans   
                
After an impressive, thoughtful and at times bleak debut album that still saw the band as something of a "cult" act, the next album, 1989's When The World Knows Your Name saw them in full commercial mode as they cracked the charts with three big hit singles from the album. The album had a generally more upbeat, rocky feel to it - piano and guitar to the fore and the dual vocals of Ricky Ross and Lorraine Macintosh the instantly recognisable point.
                            
The three hits were the singalong, piano-driven pop of Wages Day, the similarly jolly and even catchier Real Gone Kid with its "ooh-ooh/ooh-ooh" backing vocal and the Caledonian blues rock of Fergus Sings The Blues (the most "Scottish" of the songs on the album) in which Ricky Ross questioned his Scottish validity to sing the blues. All three were deserved, radio-friendly hits. The album's opener, Queen Of The New Year was also in the same upbeat mould, as also was bassy, slightly funky The World Is Lit By Lightning.

 

There are three excellent slow, atmospheric, almost anthemic numbers, however, in the beautiful Love And Regret, the uplifting Circus Lights and This Changing Light with a moving fade out, ticking off years in style of The Beach BoysWhen I Grow Up To Be A Man. On all of these Ross shows an increasing maturity, confidence and an almost poetic mastery of how to build a mighty song. Love And Regret is a perfect example of this. Yes, there were some great songs on Raintown too, but there is a constructional perfection in this that shows real development from the previous album. The same applies to the wonderful Circus Lights Ross's lyrics, delivery and the instrumental backing express both sadness and hope at the same time. "You want to display your charms on this bright night..." is delivered with a yearning sadness, yet at the same time an arms in the air chant-like joy. It is difficult to describe, but Ross had something special here. Some great drum, guitar and keyboard instrumental breaks in the song too. Lorraine comes wailing in in the background at the song's end as Ross sings "over the sea, over the land and the city.." and the drums pound the song to its conclusion. Wonderful. One of their best ever. This Changing Light starts with a nice guitar riff and some more great lyrics and some more irresistible hooks. These three songs, one after the other, see Deacon Blue at their very best.

The mood changes from optimistically upbeat for the next track, the alluring piano and vocal of Sad Loved Girl, the album's first truly sad and reflective song. It only lasts a short while before the thumping intro and funky guitars of Fergus lift us up again. "Can this white man sing the blues?" asks Ross. Of course he can.

After such a run of quality material, I always felt the album took a slight dip from this point, which is a little unfair, as Silhouette is a catchy, melodious song and Orphans is a beautiful ballad. I have always found One Hundred Things grates a bit however, slightly tinny in its backing. Listening to it now, it's ok, but just not up to the standard of what came before, with an unconvincing chorus. Your Constant Heart is similarly alright, but just that, alright. The thing is, if you compare the first nine songs with the last four, the slight dip in quality is clear.

Overall, though, this was an excellent second album, securing the band's position as a credible one. Looking back on their career now, it was certainly their high point, commercially, and, together with their next album, conceptually.

The "deluxe edition" with a whole CD of bonus material is the best to get hold of.



Fellow Hoodlums (1991)


James Joyce Soles/Fellow Hoodlums/Your Swaying Arms/Cover From The Sky/The Day That Jackie Jumped The Jail/The Wildness/A Brighter Star Than You Will Shine/Twist And Shout/Closing Time/Goodnight Jamsie/I Will See You Tomorrow/One Day I'll Go Walking    

After two critically-acclaimed albums (the second containing three big hit singles) this, Deacon Blue's third album, was, in some respects, their best. It was their most mature in many aspects, and it was certainly their most blatantly Scottish. Glasgow and Edinburgh place-name checks abound and there is plenty of Caledonian imagery in the lyrics.
                            
As on Raintown, the album begins with a short-ish, sparse ballad in James Joyce Soles before the Scottish vibrancy of Fellow Hoodlums with its references to "breeches", "Tizer", "macaroons", "Hampden", "Partick", "Cowcaddens", "Buchanan Street" and "the Clyde". It has a good bluesy rock sound to it too. Your Swaying Arms is a lilting, slow and appealing number with dual vocalists Ricky Ross and Lorraine Macintosh (now husband and wife) on fine form and a melodic, shuffling backing. The mournful Cover From The Sky has Macintosh on lead, beautifully and convincingly. The Day That Jackie Jumped The Jail is a lively tale of a Glasgow hoodlum with a Dignity-style piano and guitar and some great Scottish/Glasgow lyrics.

 

The atmospheric The Wildness,  with its beautiful bass line, gives Macintosh another chance to shine, and the album's one "commercial" single was the jaunty, Celtic-influenced Twist And Shout (not The Isley Brothers' number). Closing Time is a lengthy, sombre but interesting song with bleak hints of parts of the debut Raintown album and a blatant steal from Sly & The Family Stone's Family Affair at the beginning, (some excellent funky guitar in it though) while One Day I'll Go Walking is an upbeat closer that has, for me, vague hints of Van Morrison's On The Bright Side Of The Road.

Goodnight Jamsie is one of the band's short piano and vocal interludes, while A Brighter Star Than You Will Shine is a laid-back, rhythmic, gently alluring number with a soulful vocal from Ross, lifted by a rousing chorus with some slide guitar, and I Will See You Tomorrow is another Ross/Macintosh vocal duet on a slow, soulful song.

Overall, a polished, evocative and attractive piece of work.



Whatever You Say, Say Nothing (1993)

Your Town/Only Tender Love/Peace And Jobs And Freedom/Hang Your Head/Bethlehem's Gate/Last Night I Dreamed Of Henry Thomas/Will We Be Lovers/Fall So Freely Down/Cut Lip/All Over The World                      

After three pretty accessible albums, Deacon Blue returned with their most downbeat, under-stated album. Drowned in synthesisers, muffled, grungy guitars and vocals often a bit low in the mix it was certainly not one that sticks in the mind. However, it is a grower. I remember first hearing it back in 1993 and being really underwhelmed. Now, though, all these years later, I find it has more appeal. There are hidden secrets in it, but it needs many listens. Even the cover has the band looking shadowy and indistinct, behind a window.
                    
Your Town begins in what is to be typical style - muffled, industrial clunky guitar, lots of synth backing, Rocky Ross's trademark vocals mixed down, but a most appealing groove all the same.

Only Tender Love has a rumbling solid bass intro, a good drum sound and an alluring vocal. It is probably the album’s most catchy song. Haunting backing vocals at the end. Still pretty intense in its overall sound, though. There is a fog over this album, like Glasgow in February, that is difficult to break through.

Peace And Jobs And Freedom has a lovely addictive bass intro, at times it is almost funky and there is some Spanish-sounding acoustic guitar then some cutting guitar interjections over a plaintive Ross vocal. A melody shines through the serious murky backing, somewhere. Like the guitar stabs cutting through. Maybe that is the appeal of this album.


Hang Your Head has another chugging, bassy intro, more swirling drums and keyboards and another understated vocal. These tracks are growers but nothing like what had been before on previous albums. A catchy “chorus” bit, however. Bethlehem's Gate is similarly obscure in sound, with more heavy instrumentation, a sad vocal, but recognisable as Deacon Blue somehow, despite that. The thumping, feedback-ish bluesy intro to Last Night I Dreamed Of Henry Thomas leads into  a nice atmosphere. Some good blues slide guitar and some sampled snatches of old Delta blues vocals (presumably Henry Thomas) in the backing.

Will We Be Lovers is a dance-ish, upbeat chugger with a strong vocal and hook. But again, nothing that sticks in the mind, particularly. It has a catchy fade out vocal bit though. Fall So Freely Down is a fast-paced piece of funk rock. It uses bit of a steal from The Rolling StonesFingerprint File vocal at one point. It also has a feel of the sort of stuff U2 would be putting out at the time, and a few years later, that sort of metallic dance sound. That sound continues into the funked up Cut Lip. There are more U2-style lyrics about satellite dishes and the like. A bit of Sympathy For The Devil instrumentation in there too, if you ask me.
















Pretty Flamingo-style guitar intro heralds in All Over The World against another muffled backing, but a typical Ross vocal. A closer to an album that in many ways never really gets going, but, despite that, remains one of Deacon Blue's most beguiling and interesting releases. I find I return to it quite a bit, I guess that has to be a good thing.

PS - A personal story about Ricky Ross. He has a blog (on which comments are invited, but there are hardly any). Ross had written an article about trains, not music, I added a completely uncontroversial, polite comment (nothing about music). Ross deleted it. The moral of the story is - never try to interact online with your heroes!

Walking Back Home (1999)


Love Hurts/Jesus Do Your Hands Still Feel The Rain/The Very Thing/The Day That Jackie Jumped The Jail/Love and Regret/Christmas In Glasgow/The Wildness/When You Are Young/Love's Great Fears/Chocolate Girl/Plastic Shoes/A Brighter Star Than You Will Shine/Beautiful Stranger/All I Want/When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring?)/Walking Back Home/I'll Never Fall In Love Again      

For the purposes of this review, I will only comment on the previously unreleased tracks from this retrospective compilation from 1999, after the first split of the band. The previously released tracks have been commented on in the reviews of the albums from which they came. The other material, which I shall concentrate on here are rejected tracks from various sessions from the late 80s/early 1990s. The quality of them is exceptionally high, making this a worthwhile album to have. An excellent, atmospheric photo on the cover as well.
                    
Jesus Do Your Hands Still Feel The Rain is a mid-paced, soulful, plaintive typical sad Deacon Blue, "bleak winter in Scotland" song. It has some lovely, evocative guitar work at the end. A good one. Christmas In Glasgow is another atmospheric one too, and it doesn’t have to be played only at Christmas. Some nice bluesy slide guitar and great backing vocals on it. Springsteen-like vocal wail at the end and some Van Morrison-style flute.

When You Are Young has a moving, majestic piano intro and some lovely soulful vocals and verses. The violin parts at the end become so redolent of Van Morrison’When The Healing Has Begun as the climax of the song mounts.

Plastic Shoes is a relatively upbeat, pleasant song. Nothing special, but enjoyable all the same. All I Want has strong hints of Elton John’Philadelphia Freedom strings riff and a keyboard backing and vocal delivery reminiscent of early 90s Bruce Springsteen. Walking Back Home has Tunnel Of Love-era Springsteen synthesisers and a vocal fade out so blatantly Van Morrison it may as well be the man himself. Very reminiscent of his Boffyflow And Spike from his 1984 Sense Of Wonder album and also from tracks on Hymns To The Silence.

Bigger Than Dynamite has an appealing, catchy vocal duet from Ricky and Lorraine. Haunted has a big, rumbling bassy solid beat and would not have been out of place on Whatever You Say, Say NothingThe One About Loneliness is a typical Deacon Blue song - sad, thoughtful lyrics and a great hook. Irresistible guitar parts too.

Quite why some of these excellent tracks didn't make it on to albums is a mystery. Particularly when considering the Whatever You Say, Say Nothing album.

The Hipsters (2012)


Here I Am In London Town/The Hipsters/Stars/Turn/The Rest/The Outsiders/That's What We Can Do/She'll Understand/Laura From Memory/It Will End In Tears/Is There No Way Back To You  

Firstly, I have to say that this album suffers a lot from poor sound/production. You have to turn it down quite a bit (and I like my music loud), but on the big chorus, orchestrated bits, it sounds very clashing and tinny. There is not, for me, enough clear electric guitar, enough subtle bass guitar, enough "proper drumming" and the vocals are distant and indistinct. The latter is such a shame as Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh's vocals are Deacon Blue, to a great extent.
                
Anyway, after an eleven year absence, Deacon Blue returned with this album and, production apart, it is a good one. Here I Am In London Town is a typical Deacon Blue low-key, plaintive album opener, with Ricky Ross's vocal over a solemn piano and subtle string backing. The Hipsters is a catchy, anthemic Deacon Blue song, with big orchestration and a catchy chorus. It is here that the production really blights the song. When the chorus kicks in, Ross's voice is too far down in the mix, almost drowned by the synthesised backing and what sound very programmed drums. It is a shame, because it is a good song. The production on their earlier albums was certainly not like this. I just wish the songs on here could be played and produced like the material on Raintown or Fellow Hoodlums. Similarly, Stars is a captivating song that deserves better. On much of their previous material, Ross's voice soared above the music, joined by Lorraine McIntosh, on this album, it is difficult to pick out their vocals in the same way. Of course, you can hear them, but not in the same way, as far as I'm concerned anyway. The drums sound programmed and muffled too.

Turn opens with a vocal, so it is a lot clearer, despite the production's best efforts to bury the song, it mostly fails and the song remains a discernably good one. Briefly I could hear the bass guitar, which is unusual on this album as mostly all I can detect is the sonorous bass thump of the drum programming. The Rest has a good jangly guitar and drum intro and an endearing vocal that once again gets a considerable pounding from the backing. The track has that great Deacon Blue rousing, anthemic quality to it, however, which redeems it. The Outsiders also possesses the same good points, with a most captivating refrain.

No amount of bad production, however, can hide the glory when Lorraine launches That's What We Can Do and her and Ricky soar into one hell of a chorus, reminding of exactly what I have always loved about Deacon Blue. I have see them do this in concert a couple of times and they do it much better live, sound-wise, than it is on here. In fact, that goes for the whole album.

She'll Understand gets it almost right. It is a fetching, powerful duet between the two vocalists. Laura From Memory is a melodic but bassily thumping number with a most appealing vocal refrain. Ross still has just such a knack of nailing down a hook for a song. It Will End In Tears has a killer of a keyboard intro, a lovely melody and a detectable bass rhythm. I love this song. Nice organ break in it too. When Lorraine's vocals come in at the end it is thoroughly uplifting.

Is There No Way Back To You ends the album in a sort of dignified Elvis Costello ballad way. The piano bit in the middle is evocative and subtly majestic. There are eleven excellent songs on this album, a vibrant, upbeat atmosphere. I just wish it could be re-recorded, with different production emphasis.



A New House (2014)


Bethlehem Begins/For John Muir/A New House/An Ocean/The Living/I Wish I Was A Girl Like You/Win/Wild/March/Our New Land/I Remember Every Single Kiss    
          
Unfortunately, this album suffers from the same poor production as its predecessor, The Hipsters, from 2012. Quite what possessed either Deacon Blue or their producers to think that this showed their wonderful music in the best light is beyond me.

The opener, Bethlehem Begins has an infectious, rumbling drum intro and a great bass line too, but when it kicks in to its chorus, the usually strident vocals of Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh are practically submerged by the muffled, tinny backing. Such a shame because it is a really good song. The funky, guitar-driven rock of For John Muir (a Scottish naturalist, pictured at the bottom) is a bit of an improvement, particularly in the verses. Like the previous track, though, it when the full-on chorus arrives that the problems occur. A New House is an excellent, atmospheric, very typically Deacon Blue song, suffering from the same chorus section faults, but a captivating build up that sounds vaguely like Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill. As on the previous album, I feel that Deacon Blue's main asset, the melodious musicality expressed in the trademark vocals of their two vocalists is being completely buried under this crashing, unsubtle production. At the risk of repeating myself, An Ocean is exactly the same, a good sound on the build up that completely goes astray as the chorus launches. It is a pity because these are good songs. Given a production such as on their first four albums they would all sound so much better.

The Living is an anthemic typical Deacon Blue song, which suffers less than the others so far and has a sumptuous bass line and some excellent vocals actually a bit higher in the mix for once and a nice guitar drum riff driving it along. I Wish I Was A Girl Like You gets it mostly right, with a deep bass and drum sound and discernible vocals. It has a catchy rhythm and a great atmosphere to it. Proper Deacon Blue. Look, I am writing this as someone who has everything they have ever released and love the band dearly. My criticisms are ones that can be levelled at quite a lot of post 2000 album productions. Bruce Springsteen (Magic), Elvis Costello (When I Was Cruel) and Paul McCartney (Memory Almost Full) have all suffered from poorly produced albums in that period. I just want one of my favourite bands' work to be give the best quality sound, and on these albums they didn't get it.

Win is a lovely, appealing and melodic number with a nice bassy warmth to it. Wild is a quirky number with some staccato guitar and a catchy refrain. March has a solid, muscular riff throughout and some swirling new wave-style organ, also a rumbling bass sound and some excellent vocals. This is slightly more like it. Our New Land is a plaintive, acoustically-backed song, although Ross's voice sounds a bit strained on it, maybe he is just getting older. I Remember Every Single Kiss has a mysteriously attractive rumbling bass and piano intro and is a beguiling song that brings to mind the Whatever You Say, Say Nothing album. In fact, in many ways, this whole album has shades of that one. They are both not instantly gripping albums, that take time and repeated listens to get into. The sound problem will always remain, however, although the second half of the album is an improvement on the first, for some probably totally coincidental reason. Funnily enough, when played live, such as on Barrowlands 2016 the tracks from these albums sound so much better.



John Muir is on the right.

Believers (2016)


The Believers/This Is A Love Song/I Will And I Won't/Meteors/Gone/What I Left Out/A Boy/Birds/You Can't Know Everything/Delivery Man/Come Awake/B Boy                                                   
As with the previous two "later era" Deacon Blue albums, questions can be asked over the tinny, overloud, often crashing sound that the production gives them. This is not quite as bad as the others, slightly, but it has to be said that the production on the first five studio albums the released was miles better than on these recent ones. I love the songs on all these albums, but they don't get listened to as much as they should due to the off-putting production. I just feel a different sound would have made these albums so much better. On this album, turning it lower means you miss out on quite a bit in its soundscape, but turning it up louder means it sounds like a tinny mess. It is just not right, in my opinion, but therein lies my quandary, because the songs are bloomin' great. I will always have a great affection for Deacon Blue, so any misgivings will always be pushed aside.

The Believers begins with some typical Deacon Blue piano and the sweeping keyboard "strings" that have become very recognisable on their latter-day tracks before Ricky Ross's equally familiar voice arrives. Lorraine MacIntosh is on here, loud and clear too. This is Deacon Blue as we know and love them - big production, dramatic, anthemic and uplifting. This Is A Love Song is very much in the same vein, with a delicious piano and vocal build up to another rousing, melodic chorus. I Will And I Won't is a sublime vocal duet between the two of them, backed by a plaintive piano. Ross certainly has always known how to write a killer love song.

Meteors has a very Bruce Springsteen-influenced guitar intro. Lyrically and melodically it is very like some of his material too. Another atmospheric intro and vocal build-up brings us into Gone, the chorus is just so catchy too. Ricky Ross is a very gifted songwriter with a real ear for both a lyric and a melody. What I Left Out is one of those haunting, reflective, sparsely backed Ross songs. There are real hints of Elvis Costello in this one, for me.

A Boy has a shuffling, infectious and unusual rhythm to it. The chorus, however, is typical Deacon Blue. Birds once again has excellent vocals from both singers and that pounding, insistent drumbeat that leads into the refrain. Once again, also though, the production lets it down. Despite that it is still a lovely, beguiling song. You Can't Know Everything has a beautiful intro, full of musicality which continues throughout most of the song, save some of the crashing chorus parts which are over tinny and not nearly bassy enough for my liking. The ABBA-esque keyboard and percussion finale is irresistible, however. Delivery Man does what I have been waiting for, and turns the bass up. It brings back memories of the best of the Fellow Hoodlums album.

Come Awake is a sombre, evocative number with that feeling of a cold winter's night in Edinburgh, Dundee or Glasgow to it. B Boy ends the album instrumentally with both orchestration and a gritty rhythm. An odd end to a generally very appealing offering. Put the sound problems to the back of your mind, as I did, eventually, there is plenty to enjoy here.

Live At Glasgow Barrowlands (2016)


This is an excellent contemporary live full concert recording showcasing Deacon Blue at their mature, fulfilled finest. It has superb sound (in contrast to the somewhat grating, bombastic sound on their three most recent albums) and the band are on absolute faultless form, as indeed are husband and wife vocal team of Ricky Ross and Lorraine Macintosh.

It is good to hear tracks from the afore-mentioned albums played live, too. The albums in question are The Hipsters, A New House and Believers. As I said before, those albums suffered, in my opinion, from overloud sound, so the tracks played here sound SO much better than they do on the original albums. The tracks in question are Come Awake; Gone; Bethlehem Begins; The Outsiders; the irresistible, hooky This Is A Love Song; The Believers; the beautiful Birds; the uplifting Delivery Man; The Hipsters; the singalong, rousing That's What We Can Do and I Will And I Won't. All great tracks sounding reborn here. Superb. A real pleasure.

Then there is the older, well-known material, all of which is delivered with a professionalism, vitality and intensity that is refreshing. You do not get the impression that they are playing RaintownThis Town To Be Blamed or Dignity for the umpteenth time.

Ricky Ross's blatant on-stage Springsteenisms, particularly in Real Gone Kid and Chocolate Girl can be mildly irritating, as indeed they are when you witness them live, but that really is a mild criticism. I'll let him off - I love Bruce too. However, one does always get the feeling that Ross is a little bit derivative, and just a wee bit pretentious, in places. Only in places though.

Lorraine's voice is crystal clear throughout, particularly on Cover From The Sky and Your Swaying Arms.

The atmosphere from the audience comes across well, too.

A great set, covering a career spanning nearly thirty years. Good effort all round.

City Of Love (2020)


City Of Love/Hit Me Where It Hurts/Weight Of The World/Take Me/In Our Room/Intervals/Keeping My Faith Alive/A Walk In The Woods/Come On In/Wonderful/On Love   
                                                   

Deacon Blue's music, much as I love it and have done since 1987, has been blighted in recent years, for me, by poor production and an over-loud when not necessary, unsubtle, treble heavy sound. I love Ricky Ross's songwriting and his and Lorraine MacIntosh's voices, though, so I will never give up on them. When this album started I thought "here we go, more dodgy production" but I have to enthusiastically admit that the album shakes that off quickly, track by track and gets better and better. It ends up as a beautifully cohesive piece of work.

City Of Love starts quietly and then bursts into that now familiar Deacon Blue aural assault of tinny synthesisers and a slightly programmed feel. I guess I just have to put up with it now, as I said, the production has been like this for several years. Despite that, the song, as always, has something, the vocals are uplifting and the melody catchy. Hit Me Where It Hurts breaks the mould somewhat, though, with a nice deep and warm brooding bass line, for a while at least, before the chorus crashes in. The verses are evocative and atmospheric, however, and Ricky Ross's voice has lost none of its character. The Ricky Ross/Lorraine MacIntosh vocal interplay at two and a half minutes is as inspiring as they always were. They can still do it, bombastic production or not. That's why I keep coming back.

Weight Of The World is a delightful, quiet and understated duet between the two over a subtle piano backing. It is quite beautiful. It has that intrinsic hopeful sadness that Ross's songs invariably have. Instruments are gradually added to the song and they enhance it, classily. Nice one. The rhythmic Take Me is typical Deacon Blue fare too, in an infectious, slowing building up way. Ross's voice is clear and expressive and it has one of those hooky choruses he specialises in. Classic Deacon Blue.

  

In Our Room is a fine song, full of archetypal Deacon Blue atmosphere with another excellent lea vocal. The acoustic and catchy backing is understated and less abrasive than on some of the tracks. This time they have got the production right. I really like this one. Good old Ricky and Lorraine - something consistent in difficult times. Intervals is also a beautiful, gentle number highlighting Lorraine's voice and featuring a  fine, rumbling bass line. This is Deacon Blue at their best - tender yet dramatic, romantic and rousing.

The quality continues on the mysterious, insistently pulsating Keeping My Faith Alive which has Ross's voice at its most soulful. It wouldn't be a Deacon Blue album without at least one track that is anthemically captivating, lifting your spirits. Here it is A Walk In The Woods. It is hard to describe what I mean about songs like this, but they just instantly stimulate my emotions - the sweeping strings, the piano, the solid drums, Ross and MacIntosh's voices in glorious tandem. The strings remind me of the sort Bruce Springsteen used on his recent Western Stars album.

The lovely Come On In is seductive too, drawing me in. Track by track, they are getting this album right. Wonderful is an enchanting Ross/MacIntosh duet the type of which they seem to be able to do with their eyes shut. On Love is a wonderfully evocative closer, with Ross narrating the song's beginning, sounding like the late Jackie Leven, looking back at social history before a beautiful chorus breaks out and then we are back to the spoken part. This is repeated several times to great effect. It is a magnificent little cameo, all seven minutes plus of it. A new Deacon Blue classic and one of those songs that just makes you sit up and pay attention.

Thanks to Ricky and Lorraine and the band. Your music is a constant in a changing world. All power to you.



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