Reviewed by Dougie Adam
"Take me to a place I've never been to/Take me down a road I wouldn't know/Take me unlock the doors and set me travelling." After eagerly and continuously playing the three preview tracks dropped one by one in the months prior to the release of Deacon Blue's ninth all-original studio album, I was concerned that maybe the band were merely going to repeat the successful formulae which marked their creative return to form on their three previous Paul Savage produced albums from 2012 to 2016. Would the new offering simply be recent-Deacon-Blue-by-numbers; A New Believers Hipsters House perhaps? After all, the title track is yet one more energetic anthem propelled by another infectious string riff following after similarly impassioned title tracks "The Hipsters" and "Believers". The sparse acoustic ballad "Wonderful" strays into similar sonic territory as "I Will And I Won't", one of the standout tracks from the band's previous album 'Believers'. I needn't have worried. The new album, produced for the first time by Ricky Ross and guitarist Gregor Philp, sees the band at their effortless best and sounding completely comfortable in their own skin again. It's quintessential Deacon Blue. While singles "City Of Love" and the stunning "Hit Me Where It Hurts" will undoubtedly pick up plenty of airplay (the first single has already been A-listed by BBC Radio 2 and one of their singles of the week) the striking thing about the album as a whole is the band manage to sound enough like Deacon Blue should, whilst still forging ahead down roads we wouldn't know, throwing in a few quirks and surprises which stops them simply repeating and regurgitating what worked well on earlier albums. For the most part what we have is a quiet, assured, unassuming, often acoustic, deep cuts collection of love songs in the tradition of "The Very Thing", "Love's Great Fears" or "The Wildness", and, more recently, "I Remember Every Single Kiss" and "Birds". "Intervals" begins with a gentle, almost oriental chiming instrumental lilt sounding like it could have walked off The Blue Nile's debut album before crunching to a finale akin to U2 on 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb'. The swampy delta blues "Keeping My Faith Alive" follows hot on its heels and is soon usurped by "Come On In", adorned by Conor Smith's sumptuous pedal steel guitar. Throughout the proceedings Pete Harvey's string arrangements for The Pumpkinseeds aptly augment the band's own playing. The 'Raintown' album closed with the magnificent "Town To Be Blamed" and "Orphans" helped redeem side two of 'When The World Knows Your Name' and now added to those great final tracks from the back catalogue comes the beguiling seven-minute-long masterpiece "On Love", where Ricky Ross narrates six verses of childhood memories from his Dundee childhood, spending time in his grandparents' tenement and falling in love for the first time as a schoolboy, before five sweet and rousing choruses lift the song to another ecstatic level. It's as good as anything the band have recorded in a career now spanning 35 years and competes with "In Our Room" for the position of my favourite track on a near perfect album. Jim Prime still orchestrates the band's sound without wasting a note on piano and keyboards, Lewis Gordon conjures up the ghost of Ewen Vernal with his prominent McCartney-esque melodic harmonising basslines, Dougie Vipond's drums are always found in service of the songs, and Gregor Philp comfortably takes on the late Graeme Kelling's mantle on guitar while centre-stage as always Ricky and Lorraine's vocals meld Deacon Blue's sound together. These days Lorraine is less of a backing vocalist and more co-lead vocalist. 'City Of Love' is an album which flows seamlessly from start to finish. Those slightly concerning three singles sound perfect as part of the album as a whole. Deacon Blue's ninth studio offering is both immediately warm and familiar and yet still grows on you with each successive uplifting listen. Play it often and play it loud. "We spent the late night hours in our room/Waiting on the sunrise, turning up the volume."
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