Written by: Alex Green
It’s hard to get older.
It’s hard to be a good friend.
It’s hard to love somebody who doesn’t love you back.
And it’s even harder to love someone who actually does.
What it comes down to is, it’s hard to be a person.
Not because we can’t age gracefully, or be a good friend, or navigate the switchbacks of romance with ease, because we can. We can do all of that. But it’s hard to get it right day after day. You’re lousy today, but tomorrow you’ll shine and the day after that?
Good god, who knows….
Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue knows all of this. He always has. And so much more. In fact, Ross’ work is a gentle and elegant reminder that blowing it is as beautiful as getting it right and there’s equal amounts of philosophy that comes with both.
Throughout his career, Ross has been a man who sings about the agony of letting it all slip away, big-hearted girls from the North Country, and leaving everything behind to walk into the big smoke. He’s always understood the way the heart soars, how far the night goes, and the look on the face of someone you love who’s never coming back.
But in spite of all the heavy stuff, Ross has always believed that love prevails. And not only that, but a life without love is a life without hope.
More on that in a second.
Formed in 1985 the Glasgow outfit fit in perfectly with contemporaries like Simple Minds, Prefab Sprout and The Waterboys, and on their tenth album City of Love—their fourth since their 2012 reformation—they remain in commanding form.
In fact, Deacon Blue’s remarkable second act is arguably producing their best work yet, and City of Love only furthers that case.
The sweeping title track gets things started by shining a light on the downtrodden, the weary-hearted and the spiritually exhausted and it reassures them that the only thing that makes sense is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And the reward for that comes rather quickly on the crushing pop gem “Hit Me Where It Hurts,” where Ross sings of someone who finds love when they were at their lowest point. Musically, this unexpected bliss soars mightily away in one of the catchiest choruses of the year.
Later, the undulating romp of “Take Me” finds Ross declaring, “There’s nothing here when love’s locked out,”; the stained-ceilinged, Van Morrison-playing “In Our Room” is an affectionate look at the ecosystem young love builds and “Keeping My Faith Alive” is a percussive stomp that finds Ross reminding us that in one of the most confusing epochs in history he will always, “go with what I know,” thank you very much.
Closing up the proceedings is the positively shimmering “Wonderful” which twinkles with mesmerizing authority and the nearly eight-minute album ender “On Love,” which is a theatrical narrative stitching together a tale that goes from Hawkhill to Australia as well as along the windy roads of the heart and the distances that threaten to stretch it so far it breaks.
Ross sings interstitially through the narration and in the end he observes that love will find a way when it has a reason to. It’s a sentiment that brings to mind Robert Burns’ “Ae Fond Kiss” (“Who shall say that Fortune grieves him/While the star of hope she leaves him?”) as well as Aztec Camera’s “Song For A Friend” (Awake in winter’s crystal hours/And give to what gets you in the end”),” and it’s positively riveting, essential listening.
Deacon Blue have been one of the most consistent bands in modern music and Ricky Ross remains one our truest voices. Impossibly, age has only made his voice more luminescent and his lyrics wiser and more reassuring.
These are troubled times and City Of Love comes at a crucial moment where we could all use a drop of soul.
This one should fill your glass right up.