Justin Currie’s new album – ‘This Is My Kingdom Now’ – is the polished jewel in the crown of the Del Amitri frontman’s solo career.
Currie’s fourth solo album (out now via Endless Shipwreck Records) follows the inappropriately titled ‘Lower Reaches’ in 2013, a Del Amitri reunion tour in 2014 and recent performances including the Kelvingrove Bandstand and a stunning collaboration with the RSNO in Paisley Abbey in October 2016. Always self-deprecating in interviews and downright hilarious on his website, you could be deceived by his apparent nonchalance. ‘This Is My Kingdom Now’, however, is more proof that he is songwriting royalty.
The album opens with the short but sweet ‘My Name Is God’, with Currie proclaiming “I don’t need anyone”. The acoustic introspection combined with the thrill of Currie’s enthralling voice is the musical equivalent of the warmth and familiarity of a homecoming.
‘Fallen Trees’ is Currie at his observational best – never failing to relate to other’s inadequacies – while the asynchronous beat and guitar on the first single and title track ‘This Is My Kingdom Now’ create a more unsettled and darker feeling.
‘Sydney Harbour Bridge’ is fuelled by regret and features a neat shift from singing that there’s “nothing I can do” into a ridiculously catchy chorus of “do do do”. It’s yet another example of Currie’s ability to fuse heartbreak to a cheerier tune.
On the first listen it was the wistful americana of ‘Crybabies’ that signalled the album beginning to take hold of me. The lyrics hint of the relationship between Currie and his father – former RSNO chorus master John Currie – although it’s always difficult to determine whether he is being autobiographical. Either way, it’s lyrical perfection (and it also made my dad cry).
‘Failing To See’ is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album. Over a funky retro groove, that belongs on the dance floor at the end of a disco, Currie questions “Is this what falling in love is aiming to be?”. ‘Hey Polly’ is another uptempo song – this time a quirkier number with Currie singing in his sharpest vocals “get your claws round here today”.
The connection with water and bad weather that seems ever-present in Currie’s songwriting returns here with the rockier ‘The Dead Sea’ and the brooding ‘I Love The Sea’, which features a growling guitar above the thunderous piano melody. ‘Two People’ is equally dramatic, but with a stripped-back drone sound that eerily lurks behind Currie’s echoing vocals. It almost has a choral quality and is beautiful in its starkness.
“I’ll Leave It To You” is the stand-out track for me on first listen. The opening riff is reminiscent of The Faces and – like all Currie’s best tracks do – it tugs on my heart strings through the deftest combination of melody, lyrics and his incredible voice. Listening to it makes me simultaneously want to dance around and cry.
The long-awaited appearance of ‘My Soul Is Stolen’ on an album (unfortunately not accompanied by ‘The Girl Inside’) brings a lump to the back of my throat. Swirling keys and guitar brings the warmth into a track where Currie seems to reflect on his craft – “Look into my throat, whoever’s singing isn’t me. Cos I’m a prisoner of who all you listeners might be.” It’s a song that ends too quickly and leaves you wanting more – making it a perfect album closer.
Currie’s solo albums maybe lack the instant gratification of Del Amitri releases – there’s an intensity in some of his songs that can be overpowering, depending on your mood. However, on ‘This Is My Kingdom Now’ he has picked up from where he left off with ‘Lower Reaches’ by perfecting the balance between the light and dark – not only in individual songs but also through the duration of the album.
It’s easy to understand why he continues to garner admiration from legends such as Jimmy Webb – he is the songwriter’s songwriter – but ‘This Is My Kingdom Now’ is Currie’s most accessible solo album for a wider audience. In the land of beautifully crafted songs, Justin Currie is king.