After a dry spell and prolonged period of spotty rain here in Columbus, Ohio, we finally got a needed drenching, or at least my lawn did. I’ve always been a fan of rainy summer days. Once in awhile music comes along that connects my love of summer rain with circumstantial timing.
Enter Raintown, the debut album from the Scottish band Deacon Blue. Raintown had been out for a few years when I picked it up at the library (on the strength of it’s intriguing cover photo). In the pre-internet days when information about bands was limited to the “established” press, it was sometimes difficult to find reviews of new alternative music. As a result, a lot of the new music (or new to me) I sampled was based on the tone of the cover art if reviews or word of mouth were not options. That sounds absurd now, but in 1989 I had refined the technique to an art.
Like any student who was soon to graduate, I had some anxiety about where I would work after graduation and if I would be able to pay my bills now. I assumed things would work out just fine in the end, but there was a kind of perverse fun in being concerned anyway.
That’s where Raintown connected with me. Like Prefab Sprout, Deacon Blue’s music recalls a soft fuzziness somewhere between reflection and regret. Musically, Deacon Blue made sophisticated pop that still managed to be earthy and free of pretension. Like Prefab Sprout, that sound rooted in working class values was part of their charm and was something I could relate to.
On Raintown Deacon Blue addressed many of the concerns and anxiety that working people face, like the dignity of work and the realities of being unemployed (“Dignity”) or being victim to harsh urban circumstances in the beautiful album opener (“Born In a Storm”). It’s not all gloom and doom. A few light-hearted moments stand out as in the love song “Chocolate Girl”.
Most of the album’s songs were written by Ricky Ross with him as the lead vocalist. The backing vocals of Lorraine McIntosh were up front providing a dynamic counterpoint to Ross in the title track, but were sporadic elsewhere on the album.
The often atmospheric nature of songs about urban life in Glasgow Scotland could have easily been exchanged for Greensboro or Guanajuato. The universal themes coupled with the warm tone of the album made Raintown the band’s most successful and critically acclaimed recording.
The album was originally released in 1987, then again for US distribution by Columbia Records in 1988. Since that time its been re-released twice as a remastered two disc set with alternate cuts in a treatment similar to the re-issue of Prefab Sprout’s Two Wheels Good (on the same label). The last issue in 2012 contained B sides and remixes. Despite all the reissues, the band’s profile remains low.
Of course you don’t need a rainy day or even be a under paid working stiff to appreciate the charms of Raintown, but it helps just the same.