Thursday, 15 August 2013
114 Raintown - Deacon Blue
Purchased : December 1988
Tracks : Born In A Storm / Raintown / Ragman / He Looks Like Spencer Tracey Now / Loaded / When Will You ( Make My Telephone Ring) ? / Chocolate Girl / Dignity / The Very Thing / Love's Great Fears / Town To Be Blamed
This was the next purchase from Britannia.
Like Ancient Heart this was a popular LP at the time but has worked its way towards the back of people's cupboards since then. Just ask yourself when you last heard any of these guys' 17 Top 40 hits on the radio ?
This was the band's debut LP released in the summer of 1987. It proved to be a slow burner sticking around the charts ( highest position 14 ) for eighteen months despite the lack of a Top 30 single. Its critical reception was lukewarm and this may have been down to disappointment at who they were not. A band from Glasgow with the word Blue in their name singing melancholic and romantic songs about their home city with a rooftop shot on their album cover - we've been here before haven't we ? Their name also made them suspect in being gleaned from a song by Steely Dan, a band still not fully rehabilitated from pre-punk pariah status.
"Born In A Storm" is a brief piano and voice piece that introduces Ricky Ross's plaintive vocals and the lyrical themes of adverse fate and the weather before segueing straight into "Raintown" with its cascading piano intro. The song rests on a light white funk rhythm reminiscent of China Crisis before erupting into a dramatic chorus with Fairlight crashes and Lorraine McIntosh's gospel-y wails. It's that conflict that makes this album intriguing - the head-on collision between old-fashioned singer-songwriter values and bombastic eighties over-production. The song places a couple kept apart by job commitments against the backdrop of the rainy city and is , if a Radio 4 documentary is to be believed, well regarded by its inhabitants.
"Ragman" is a magnificent Prefab Sprout impersonation ( with a hint of the Lotus Eaters' First Picture Of You for good measure ) . Like the Pet Shop Boys' Rent it seems to be about a relationship where the pair are not economic equals, obviously a major concern of the times.
The glossy production is well-judged staying just on the right side of tasteful. It's not a bad little song , it's just hard to give it full credit when it sounds so much like someone else's.
"He Looks Like Spencer Tracey Now" is inspired by the American physicist Harold Agnew ( still alive at the time of writing and yes he does a bit ) who flew with the bomb (though not on the same plane that OMD celebrated ) to Hiroshima and took pictures. It's an interesting lyric but the song's a bit soporific, the over-lush production and Ross's earnest vocal making it sound very like Paul Young. Plus it's got the same melody as "Dignity ".
"Loaded" is a pop at some dissatisfied yuppie reminding him or her of their privileged position. Released as a single in the summer of 1987 it failed to chart despite a reasonable amout of exposure; perhaps the video ( pointedly filmed in London ) , where Ross's div dancing makes Andy McCluskey look like Nureyev didn't help. It's a sprightly funk-flecked piece of Wet Wet Wet-ish guitar pop with a warm chorus.
"When Will You ( Make My Telephone Ring)" their second modest hit of 1988 is a slow smoochy soul-pop number, again not too far away from Wet Wet Wet, with straightforward lyrics about waiting for an errant lover's call of explanation. Paul Young's backing trio are on hand ( shortly before going out on their own as Londonbeat ) to beef up the chorus. It's not really my cup of tea but well enough executed.
Side two kicks off with "Chocolate Girl" which fell just short of the Top 40 as a single. It's a third person tale of a smug complacent man who can't understand why his kept girlfriend isn't more responsive. This one struck a particular chord with me as the girl I fancied at work was being bad mouthed by her boyfriend for being too passive in bed ; he wasn't the sort of guy who might reflect on what this said about his own performance. It's a louche country-flavoured ballad featuring in-demand pedal steel guitarist B J Cole spicing up an already strong chorus.
"Dignity" was the first single to crack the Top 40 ( number 31 ) . It starts out as an affecting little folk song about a street cleaner's dreams of sailing a small boat then cranks itself up into a piano-led stomper with a lyric about reading Maynard Keynes which raises the dread spectre of compatriots Hue and Cry. The lyrical concept is a bit cack-handed but the attractive tune saves it.
"The Very Thing" is the most frustrating track. For a verse and a chorus they achieve the emotional majesty of the Blue Nile jumping off from the heart breaking line "One day all of us will work" then destroy the mood by cranking up the drums and losing lyrical focus. It returns to that key line at the end in a nice coda but its an unsatisfactory song.
The final two tracks are co-writes with keyboard player Andy Prime . "Love's Great Fears" is the sort of lush piano-led AOR that could have come from Bruce Hornsby or Don Henley ( with a hint of Nik Kershaw's Wouldn't It Be Good in the main piano riff ) with an adult lyric about talking through relationship insecurities. Chris Rea pops up to add a little spice to the latter stages with some searing guitar.
The final track "Town To Be Blamed" is clunkily-titled ( isn't Glasgow a city anyway ? ) and works hard to be big and dramatic with loud/quiet switches and some squally rock guitar. It does capture a night time in the big city mood and the piano work and Ross's vocal are first class.
This LP laid the groundwork for the next one to go straight to number one helped by a big breakthrough hit in "Real Gone Kid" ( the subject of which will pop up here in due course) but by that time too much bombast had crept into their music for me and I lost interest in the band. After splitting in 1994 and Ross failing with a solo LP they got back together in 1999 and have continued on a part-time basis ( less guitarist Graeme Kelling who died in 2004 ) ever since.