There's always something slightly predictable about a new Del Amitri album: you just know it will be packed with yet more examples of wonderfully written, intelligent, melancholic tunes, yet deep down you also know that no matter how good they may be, those same songs will probably not propel the band above the level of success they have achieved in the past.
It's not that Del Amitri have delivered a half-hearted record with Can You Do Me Good? -- it's actually one of their best and most diverse -- it just seems that, for some reason, the band are destined to remain the perennial underachievers of UK rock, gaining all the critical plaudits whilst the likes of Travis, Coldplay and Stereophonics gain all the gold discs.
Indeed, if a recent interview with lead singer/songwriter Justin Currie is to be believed, Del Amitri must sell 300,000 copies of this, the band's sixth studio opus, if they are to remain in the employ of Mercury Records. Whilst that figure is not an insurmountable target, for a band with a relatively static fanbase, and that has been inactive for the best part of 4 years, Can You Do Me Good?, to quote one of their new song titles, may well be Del Amitri's "Last Cheap Shot at the Dream".
The band has achieved a respectable level of singles success down the years, but of their criminally ignored canon, only 1997's "Roll To Me", 1992's "Always the Last to Know" and 1991's "Nothing Ever Happens" have managed a measure of crossover popularity. Judging by initial impressions, the kind of economic impasse that generally leads to record companies and bands parting ways in such scenarios could be closer than anticipated. The first single, the Curtis Mayfield influenced, soulful groove of "Just Before You Leave", squeezed into the UK Top 40 briefly before dropping off the radar. Hardly the type of reaction the new, improved Del Amitri -- or the label accountants -- would have wanted.
Despite such inauspicious initial signs, Can You Do Me Good? is undoubtedly a real step forward for the Glaswegian quintet. A number of collaborations with hip, contemporary producers such as Commissioner Gordon have given the band a real modern, sonic diversity that perhaps previous albums lack, and the various loops, effects and embellishments that flavour much of the album prove a welcome addition to Currie's latest batch of consistently melodic and wickedly observant songs about break-ups, failure and general melancholy.
The vibrant, yet typically morose "Buttons on My Clothes" is one such tune that could begin a concerted assault on the higher reaches of the charts, so immediate is its melody, and so contemporary is its production. Likewise, the heartfelt "Baby It's Me" has all the ingredients of a potential hit, and "She's Passing This Way" is as beautiful a ballad as you will hear this year.
Currie's lyrics are once again astutely observed, analysing the damaging effects of material excess in "Cash and Prizes" and the equally destructive influence of spirituality in the bitterly caustic "Jesus Saves". Elsewhere, interesting metaphors for addiction abound in "Wash Her Away", whilst "One Last Hurrah" and "Just Getting By" are as melancholic as ever.
So, Del Amitri have taken a few chances and delivered the goods in terms of quality, yet the nagging feeling remains that no matter how much new ground they attempt to break or how accomplished the new material is, the fact that Del Amitri remain terminally unfashionable means Can You Do Me Good? may not be enough to break the familiar cycle of solid, if unspectacular success.