CD Review of What Is Love For by Justin Currie
Recommended if you like
Del Amitri, Richard Ashcroft, Neil Finn
Justin Currie:
What Is Love For

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


ou may not know Justin Currie by name, but chances are, you know at least one of his old band’s hits. Del Amitri were never world-beaters sales-wise, but they managed to knock out a few ground-rule doubles on Top 40 stations during their 20-year-plus run, including “Kiss This Thing Goodbye,” “Always the Last to Know,” and especially “Roll to Me.”

It was that last song, omnipresent on the airwaves during the summer of 1995, that sealed the band’s fate. The band had never really been understood by the marketplace, less so by its label, and once that bright, hooky piece of pop heaven made itself a hit, there was no going back to bar-band-made-good status for the boys from Glasgow. After struggling through the dwindling sales of 1997’s Some Other Sucker’s Parade and 2002’s Could You Do Me Good, Del Amitri was cut loose by what remained of A&M. Since then, Currie has been seemingly adrift; aside from a puzzling, Del Amitri-by-any-other-name spinoff project called the Uncle Devil Show, he’s been mostly content to periodically leak demos via his MySpace page. It was a holding pattern befitting the drunken, regretful lout depicted in many of Currie’s songs, but a waste of talent nonetheless, and to music connoisseurs of a certain stripe, the words “Justin Currie” or “Del Amitri” became reliable prompts for sad sighs and shakes of the head.

Now here’s Currie’s solo debut, which will provide both good and bad news for Del Amitri fans – good, because it’s always a pleasure to hear Currie’s world-weary burr; bad, because it most likely sounds nothing like what you’d expect. Rather than picking up where the band left off – which would have made all the sense in the world, given the fact that Currie was its only constant member – he’s opted for a darker, more languid approach. There are 11 tracks here, and there isn’t a rocker among the bunch; it’s as if Currie spent the last five years listening to nothing but Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. It’s a breakup’s aftermath, set to song, reeking of ash, stale air, and rueful self-awareness.

A grown-up album, in other words, which is bound to break the hearts of Rykodisc’s accountants, since grown-ups don’t buy albums anymore, unless Rod Stewart or Barry Manilow are covering songs they remember from their youth. It’s the kind of album that steadfastly refuses to pay off until its listener has given a little of his own sweat – the sort of emotional exchange that used to make turntables hum, but in this day and age often spells the end of a career. This won’t end Currie’s – he’s too good, and too many people with money know it – but it won’t be a hit of any kind.

If you’ve ever had your heart broken, or broken someone else’s, you’re bound to hear echoes of your own treacherous heartbeat in these songs – if you listen hard enough. Unfortunately for Justin Currie, that’s just the kind of thing many people don’t want to hear.

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