Deacon Blue Embrace Nature On Seventh Album
The Herald 4th September 2014
If you're seeking clues as to the premise of Deacon Blue's new album, A
New House, then English metaphysical poet and cleric John Donne is your man.
line from his poem Love's Growth - "No winter shall abate the spring's increase" - entwines itself around the Glasgow pop chroniclers' seventh studio LP, which beautifully explores ideas of nature, renewal, resilience and memory. Well, that and singer-songwriter Ricky Ross's hitherto untapped desire to be a woman.
The follow-up to 2012's Top 20 album The Hipsters, A New House finds Deacon Blue recharged and revitalised, looking forward and upward, as demonstrated by galloping opener Bethlehem Begins ("to begin again"), offbeat-pop anthem March ("this miracle of spring is all that matters"), and pastoral-rock serenade For John Muir, inspired by the Scottish-American conservationist ("long live the wilderness way, the high clouds, the long days.")
"I've been thinking a lot about nature - its pervasiveness, relentlessness and energy," says Ross over coffee in his adopted hometown of Glasgow. "My dad always used to say, 'Aye, spring again', and I think in some ways that idea helped shape the album." Indeed, the LP was originally called Bloom - now the title of an accompanying demos collection whose track notes acknowledge the significance of Donne's words.
That's not to say that A New House revokes the past, or obliterates what has come before, and you'll discern echoes of tracks like Dignity, Your Town and Closing Time throughout. The swooning drive-pop of the title track (and current single) sees Ross gear up for "a new start, a new way, a new day," but, as with much of the record, it is rooted in memory.
"I remember being five and moving out to a housing estate in (Dundee's) West Ferry," he says. "We went to see it - my mum and dad said, 'This is going to be your new house' - but it was still a building site, so there was a farm here, and fields there, and there was a sense of stamping your authority over nature, but also of being aware that if you left it alone, the nature would claw back. Nature always does. There was a real excitement about that. I suppose it's the excitement of possibility."
As the independence referendum approaches, it's tempting to hear words like "possibility," and songs like March (whose seasonal title also, of course, evokes protest, and striding forward), and invest them with political resonance, especially given that Ross is a vocal advocate of the Yes campaign. But as with other Scottish pop landmarks this year - notably King Creosote's From Scotland With Love and Aidan Moffat and Paul Fegan's Where You're Meant To Be - A New House is not about the referendum; it is not tied to, or defined by, this moment in time.
"It's the backdrop to everything just now, of course," says Ross. "It's always there. But that's not what the record is about."
Ross's lyrics have always been instilled with poetic ambiguity - they variously operate as love songs, folk songs, protest songs - which is perhaps one reason why his older works chime with us now more than ever (Dignity, Loaded, This Changing Light), and why newer tracks from The Hipsters and A New House have been welcomed with such open arms.
Also key to Deacon Blue's renaissance almost three decades into their existence is the band's ongoing relationship with Glasgow producer Paul Savage (Delgados/Chemikal Underground), who expertly helmed The Hipsters and pulls a similar blinder on A New House. He traces the charms of their previous albums - the piano-pop longing of 1987's Raintown, the melodic-rock bombast of 1989's When The World Knows Your Name, the picturesque chorales of 1991's Fellow Hoodlums, the up-tempo raptures of 1993's Whatever You Say, Say Nothing - while propelling their sound (and possibilities) forward.
"I can't speak highly enough of Paul," says Ross. "Chem19 is a great studio to go into, it's a really nice atmosphere, and he's great with everyone in the band," Ross says of his Deacon Blue cohorts Lorraine McIntosh, Dougie Vipond, Jim Prime, Gregor Philp and Lewis Gordon. "In terms of recording my voice, I think he's the best producer I've ever worked with. And as for what he's done with I Remember Every Single Kiss, it's just brilliant."
I Remember Every Single Kiss is the album's glorious swansong - a reeling career-high that's testament to the band's resilience, their sense of renewal, and their welcome return from a pop wilderness that saw them disband for five years (1994 to 1999). Its study of memory - of the things we remember; the things we forget - parallels the sublime and yearning Sometimes I Wish I Was A Girl Like You, which closes Side A on the album.
"That was the very last song to be written before we started recording," offers Ross. "I had the music - I'd actually been writing with Dan and Rich from The Feeling. I didn't have any lyrics, but I kept going back to this idea which was, Sometimes I Wish I Was A Girl Like You." Well, you can't blame him.
A New House is a brilliant, evocative long-player with its roots in our past and a spring in its step. "I remember every single garden, and springtime, and bright sun," Ross sings on I Remember Every Single Kiss, and he leaves us thinking how good it could be. It feels like coming home.