The way I see it, Del Amitri was one of those bands that had it all together musically, and (of course) the American music-buying public completely and unjustly ignored them. Aside from a couple of scattered hit singles, the Scottish band flew under the radar despite possessing one hell of a secret weapon in lead singer/songwriter Justin Currie. Currie’s honey-thick voice suggested a childhood listening to classic soul music, while his lyrics were cinematic in detail, revealing a lovelorn personality as well as a major sarcastic streak. After picking up a hits compilation maybe a decade ago, I found my way through their catalog, and let me tell you this. Any fan of singer/songwriters would be very well served by having some Del Amitri in their music collection.
With Del Amitri officially dissolved after well over two decades, Currie’s first solo album What Is Love For adds a couple of new wrinkles while remaining true enough to his band’s sound that longtime fans will not be disappointed. While Del Amitri jumped randomly between barroom rockers and sensitive ballads, the album What Is Love For leans decidedly into the latter category. If all you remember of the band’s work is their rollicking Top 10 hit “Roll to Me”, you might be thrown for a bit of a loop, as this album is more in line with lovelorn ballads like “Tell Her This” (which you might remember from it’s placement in a Scrubs episode). It’s something of a breakup album in the mold of Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love. What’s Is Love For is one of those albums that you want to listen to when your wounds are still fresh from the latest romantic disappointment or rejection.
While you’d normally associate this type of album with plaintive acoustic folk-derived music, Currie does a pretty good job of including elements from all manner of musical genres here. Many of the songs utilize mood-setting strings, and there are elements of jazz and country sprinkled throughout this album’s 11 tracks. There’s even a slight nod to Del Amitri’s harder-rocking side with the crunchy guitars of “Out of My Control”. “Walking Through You” boasts a gently loping musical background and vocal harmonies worthy of the Eagles, while a reedy sax solo and eerie double-tracked vocals give a peak-period Elton John flair to “Something in That Mess”. Actually, I’d compare this very favorably to your typical singer-songwriter album of the ‘70s, certainly much more so than the borderline-awful James Blunt record. Hearing a song like “Where Did I Go?” featuring Currie’s aching falsetto and a wild guitar solo at the conclusion, you’ll wonder why hacks like Blunt sell millions of records while Currie remains relatively unknown.
One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Currie’s previous work is that his lyrics represent a very real-life viewpoint towards love and relationships. If you roll your eyes at moon-eyed, lovey-dovey lyrics or get a little uncomfortable with near-suicidal breakup lyrics, you’ll appreciate songs like “Not So Sentimental Now” and “If I Ever Loved You”, both of which employ dry wit in lieu of shopworn cliche.
We’re consistently inundated with earnest singer/songwriter types, from David Gray and Ray Lamontagne to Feist and Colbie Caillat. Anyone can pick up a guitar and sing about their lives, but it takes a special talent to put that across in a new way, much less do it consistently for over two decades. What Is Love For is intimate and evocative, featuring songs and singing that sounds like it comes straight from the heart. It would definitely be in your best interest to seek this out and give Currie the props he’s deserved for quite some time.