When The World Knows Your Name Q Magazine April 1989
In the last few years it seems as if the Big Apple has become the great escape for Scottish pop groups. Though Frank Sinatra is in every record collection, his suavely polished classics for lovers lonely and swinging could hardly be called roots music; still less, his ironic '70s jazz-rock heirs Steely Dan seem so specifically a product of the city that never sleeps that one wonders how they manage to travel at all, never mind take root in Dundee and Glasgow. Yet such musical images of New York have become an inspiring vision to a generation of accomplished Scots (including Danny Wilson and Hue& Cry), of which Deacon Blue have become the most commercially eminent. Just south of the border in Tyneside, only Prefab Sprout have sold as many records.
Named in tribute to Steely Dan, Deacon Blue have always been the least cool of the crop, the most extravagantly Celtic. On paper the gulf between the New York tradition of elegant restraint and the wild-eyed emotiveness of, say, Hothouse Flowers is ludicrously unbridgeable. But one has only to think of Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel Of Love to know how thrilling such a play of emotional contrasts can be, and it is the Bruce Springsteen himself who presents the most telling reference point in considering today's Deacon Blue, the band which last year very quietly sold 300,000 copies of their debut album and which had a packed London audience on its feet for every minute of a grandstanding three-hour show. Though, at 30, Deacon Blue's mainman Ricky Ross is leaving it rather late, you can hear in every note that he is seizing his moment with a fervour that may never come again.
Real Gone Kid is the hit we know already. With piano working up such a head of steam that it has to be let off with a train-whistle whoo-whoo chorus, this is typical Deacon Blue; for within its stampede of soul are the seeds of melancholy reflection. I cried and I craved/Hoped and I saved, testifies Ricky Ross; And put away those souvenirs. Moreover, in The World Is Lit By Lightning, he pictures himself dancing under chandeliers and I'm telling you/Caught in the headlights and I'm yelling it at you/Why is it girl, when the world is lit by lightning / That I keep telling you that I love you. If only life were so intense, so larger-than-life!
Naturally, there are those among us who think Mr Ricky Ross is a bit of a pranny. But I for one salute his bravura belief in the big sweep, the epic gesture and his attempts, however clumsy, to invest the stuff of everyday romance and recession life with a filmic rock poetry. Though the band lack finesse they stoke excitement efficiently and can drop into a soulful reverie when the song demands it; less grudging praise goes to Ricky Ross's vocal foil, Lorraine Mclntosh, who adroitly feminises the band's texture and so saves us on more than one occasion from being flattened by an excess of overwrought macho breast-beating. Otherwise, When The World Knows Your Name perhaps has fewer songs of the melodic order of the debut's Chocolate Girl and Loaded, but it makes up in sheer brass-neck and raucous sense of occasion. Mat Snow