PRODUCER HUGH Jones is known for creating aural atmospheres, mood pieces like Echo and the Bunnymen's best album. Heaven Up Here. It was Jones who channeled the Bunneymen's monotone assault to give that record its haunting and menacing character. At the helm of two new bands. Del Amitri and The Colourfield. Jones has forsaken the Gothic terror of Heaven for the chumminess of well plucked acoustic guitars through crystal clear pop production. And the results are mixed.
The good news is the eponymous Del Amitri (Chrysalis). At first glance, these four Scotsman would seem to fit in with the U2 Alarm mode of loud banal political folk songs. This debut effort abounds with youthful metaphors about pollution and nuclear war and all the things that are so gosh--wrong with this world. Most of the time these societal barbs are more embarassing than effective. All of this only goes to prove that it takes time to learn how to write lyrics. Fortunately, the ultimate success of Del Amitri does not depend on its words but rather its presentation.
In songwriting and instrumental ability, these guys approach the level of XTC. All the songs are built on the complex riffs of lead guitarist lain Harvie intermingling with the equally complex riffs of guitarist Brian Tolland. Usually these two play eschew electric guitars for acoustics, and the striking thing is that they don't lose any power in doing so. Songs like "Hammering Heart" and "Crows In The Wheatfield" are anthems, for Christ's sake, and they are played with guitars that are actually made out of wood.
Well, in these days of Hying V's and Strats, wood sounds good. "Hammering Heart," the best song on the disk, starts with Harvie riff, and builds with a viscous background strum, drummer Paul Tyagi's fast snare, bassist Justin Currie's hoarse but melodie shout and leaves you at the end with what is both powerful and complex. Similarly, "I Was Here" has a tremendous acoustic guitar solo and "Deceive Yourself" some treacherously lovely harmonies.
ONLY ON THE BALLADS, "Former Owner" and "Keepers," does the spirit and drive of this record slow down and into folky la-la-la-la cliche's. Yet even in these places, Producer Jones has done such a superb job at balancing all the parts of Del Amitri's attack that you have to be impressed.
As a pop-folk band, they are quirkier, more talented, less obnoxious and almost as danceable as U2. It is not outside the realm of possibility that, if this band learns from their youthful mistakes and continues to match blistering riffs with supple hbarmonies, XTC's Andy Partridge might just call them up in search of ideas.
Jones has also done a good job producing the Colourfield's debut Virgins and Philistines (Chrysalis). However, although Jones may have thought he was mixing up a tasty bit of rock and roll, Philistines is an easy listening pop album with neither the crunch of "rock" nor the snap of "roll." In short, this is rock music for people drink decaffinated coffee, exercise regularly and watch out for too much salt in their textbook guided diets.
The Colourfield, the world's first rock band attempting to cross over into the field of Lechmere background music, was formed by vocallist Terry Hall, formerly of the Specials (a decent two-tone band) and Fun Boy Three (a synth outfit that gave the Go-Gos their first hit, "Our Lips Are Sealed.") With bassist Karl Shale and guitarist Toby Lyons, Hall strikes out after something different with this group, and regrettably, he got it.
THE STYLES on Philistine vary from Sixties bubblegum pop and the Mysterians' "Can't Get Enough Of You Baby" to the funkless salsa of "Take" to the pretentious folk of the Roche's "Hammond Song" to the lounge jazz of "Sorry." The Colourfield almost manages to pull off the song--even a hint of self-mockery would have made it palatable. The Roche's cover, though, is disasterous. First of all, "Hammond Song" was the always the Roche's greatest hit and it is permanently associated with them. And secondly, few people if any liked the Roches or thought they were anything more than mistakenly conceived trio of sophisto-bohemes out for an egocentric spin at the buyer's expense.
By resurrecting styles of the past without any touch of self-parody, the Colourfield is providing a tour through the banality of the Sixties. This is too bad because the Colourfield has an excellent producer and talented musicians. When Hall and company play around with dissonance, the results are interesting as on "Pushing Up Daisies" and "The Colourfield." The former even has aguitar solo in which Lyons sounds like he actually cares what he is playing: a very catious sign of hope.
As a point of interest, Philistines is also noteworthy because it contains "Cruel Circus," the second dumbest pro-vegetarian song even on wax--the first is "Meat is Murder" by the Smiths. That song like most is a reflection of the colourfield's attitude problem, a problem easily fixed by introducing Hall to Husker Du's lead guitarist and singer Bob Mould on one of Mould's bad nights. That would be a lesson in commitment.