Saturday, July 03, 2010

Raintown



One of the brightest and most promising bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s was Glasgow-based Deacon Blue, who managed to score a string of Top 40 hits in their native Britain before disbanding in the mid-1990s (thankfully, in an amicable manner, and not in any “classic” intra-band implosion like a thousand others).
But during the group’s glory days, fans were consistently treated to highly melodic, pleasantly intelligent (but hardly awash in the sort of witty cynicism displayed by someone like Morrissey), and top-quality pop songs that are unfailingly accessible, but never condescending to the level of swamping listeners with clichéd, histrionic sentiments.

Of course, much of Deacon Blue’s success can be attributed to the songwriting of frontman Ricky Ross, surely one of the most criminally underrated singer-songwriters to emerge from the British blue-eyed soul scene of the late 20th century. Some might charge that Ross is nothing more than a Scottish version of Bruce Springsteen, with the same sort of song topics: urban desolation, working-class concerns, general social issues and that dependable standby, unrequited love.

However, the point is that Ross never engaged in the rabble-rousing grandstanding that the Boss is partial to on occasion, and while his band never quite tasted the sort of global glory that Springsteen’s E Street Band revelled in, they made enough of a name in the British Isles during their time to still be remembered fondly today.

Deacon Blue's defining album remains their 1987 debut, the fabulously dour 'Raintown', basically a candid, no-holds-barred musical commentary on their perpetually rain-lashed and wintry hometown. The title track (preceded by an abbreviated piano-and-voice snippet called 'Born in a Storm') is a rational start to the record, its dramatically windswept, rain-lashed atmospherics hardly diminished by the march of time.

'Ragman' and 'Loaded' are also strong entries in Deacon Blue’s oeuvre, two basic but highly ear-friendly soul-pop tunes that tell of the drudgeries of working in dead-end jobs. The hit singles from 'Raintown' are placed squarely in the middle of the album, and they thoroughly deserve such strategic positioning. The strident 'Dignity' is still one of the best expressions of everyman defiance in the face of overwhelming economic odds ever recorded, while the slide guitar-enhanced tale of unrequited love, 'Chocolate Girl', mines the country-pop vein with customary aplomb.

The three members of now-defunct British soul collective Londonbeat are brought in to lend backing-vocal weight to the yearning lost-love ditty 'When Will You Make My Telephone Ring', adding an interesting counterpoint to Ross’s raspy lead vocal. And finally, the resentful, angry 'Town to Be Blamed' is an apt ending, basically a denunciation of the evils of union-destroying Thatcherism.

In retrospect, the music on 'Raintown' remains startlingly fresh and soulful, despite its age, and also contains some of Ross’s most inspired songwriting. Deacon Blue did put out more stylistically varied albums since 'Raintown', but, confessional, revealing, heartfelt and intuitive as it is, this one will be remembered as a particular highlight in the band’s repertoire. A hugely underrated album that deserves to be introduced to a new generation of listeners.

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