At first glance, Justin Currie is your stereotypical tall, dark and handsome rock ‘n’ roll frontman. But the more you listen to Currie and his music — and he’s been churning out minor hits since he formed the Scottish band Del Amitri as a teenager in the ’80s — the more you realize how well he has resisted being summed up in a sentence.
He’s retained his prominent sideburns but ditched the leather pants from his Del Amtri days. And unlike the vast majority of pop singers, he doesn’t play emotional dress-up. He’s not a fop or a rake or a rogue or a renegade. He doesn’t milk the dramatic moment for tragicomedy (a la Bryan Ferry) or heroism (Bono) or spiritual questing (Van Morrison).
Currie’s songs complicate his “branding” even further. In the promo materials for his second solo album, “The Great War,” released last month, he acknowledges that he seems “to gravitate toward the ambiguity of feeling, the struggle with motivations and doubt in relationships … I use melody to make all of this less maudlin, hopefully, and to create tension.”
For example, the third song from “The Great War” unfurls with the beauty of a flag sent up in a gentle breeze on a jetty at dawn; so effortless and pretty and yet just edgy and anthemic enough to compel your respect.
For almost anyone else, the tune would be put in the service of good tidings. Yet Currie’s rich vocal (bearing just a bit of a brogue) affectionately claims allegiance to rats in a drain, damp fireflies, and fistfights at weddings. “Bodies dumped in ditches and stowaways at sea/They make themselves a home inside of me,” he croons, which turns out to be the chorus for the song, titled “A Home Inside of Me.”
After a half-dozen or so eminently enjoyable listens, I don’t regard “The Great War” to be the equal of Currie’s first solo CD, “What Is Love For,” from 2007. Currie, now 45, called that disc the end of his youth, a time when he “wanted to let my world-weariness go unchecked,” and maybe that’s the trick to his magnum opus to date — few singer-songwriters do dolor or fatigue with the depth, nuance and absence of melodrama Currie fashions. Overcast skies, or moods, can often be more welcome than blazing suns and insights in the right circumstances.
“The Great War” does contain some vintage Currie couplets, of course. My favorite is “She makes my common sense/Come out like self-defense,” from “Can’t Let Go of Her Now.” But there is nothing quite as anti-heroic as “No, Surrender,” from “What Is Love For,” which bravely rebuts the sacrifice of soldiers with a rapid-fire talk-song that has the relentless cadence of hip-hop without losing the lilt or the vocabulary of first-rate folk-rock.
There are some superb pop music options this evening, including The Handsome Family at the Cedar and the New Pornographers at First Avenue. My vote goes to Justin Currie at the Fine Line.
Here is Currie’s Myspace page, which leads with “No, Surrender.”
Here is Currie doing a solo rendition of a Del Amitri hit, “Be My Downfall.”
Here is Currie talking about “The Great War,” with many musical excerpts from the album mixed in.
Justin Currie at the Fine Line Music Café, tonight, June 11, at 9 p.m., tickets $22.