Infinite Play: Del Amitri, “Tell Her This”

Written by Infinite Play, Music

Del Amitri - TwistedSince you’re all so wrapped up in Mellowmas right now, I thought it would be a good time to remind you all that music can, in fact, be a beautiful thing. I could have written a column about my pick for Best Song Of 2009 but, knowing some of what Jeff and Jason have planned for you, I figured it would be best to save it for when you need it most.

This past Tuesday saw the return of one of my favorite sitcoms to the airwaves, Scrubs.  By the way, if you haven’t seen my Popdose colleague Will Harris’ interview with Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, do it now. One of the hallmarks of the show has been the musical montage. Now it’s ubiquitous, but when Scrubs debuted it brought a cinematic device to the small screen. After all, who didn’t get a little misty when Turk proposed to Carla to “Question” by Old 97s, or turned on when J.D. and Elliot got it on while The Coral’s “Dreaming Of You” blared from the TV?

One of the best montages they did was midway through season 2 on an episode called “My Sex Buddy.” After their annual attempt at what Dr. Cox referred to as “nerdy sex” (the aforementioned use of “Dreaming Of You”), J.D. and Elliot decide that its best if they become “friends with benefits,” a perfect source of conflict on sitcoms. But by the end of the show, J.D. realizes that he wants more from her than she can give. As he is forced to let her go, “Tell Her This,” from Del Amitri’s 1995 album Twisted, comes up on the soundtrack.

Written by bassist/singer Justin Currie and guitarist Iain Harvie, the music on “Tell Her This” is sparse, just a couple of acoustics, bass, and accordion, with a sweeping waltz reminiscent of “Half A World Away” by R.E.M. Lyrically, it deals in familiar territory for Del Amitri. They’ve had a fight, the result of too much drinking, and now he’s trying to get her back. But she’s not speaking to him, so he’s asking someone to be the intermediary and tell her that he’s ready to commit. There’s no chorus, bridge, or solo, only five verses.

On paper, that doesn’t seem like much, but it succeeds for two main reasons. The first is the way the melody fits the lyric. It gives so much space to breathe after each line that the emotion explodes in your cranium. The second is that Currie’s vocal is simply beautiful. He brings out the darker tones in his voice while not losing sight of the melody. And Currie’s phrasing, the most underappreciated aspect of singing, is impeccable, drawing out the lyric without over-emoting. It’s a very nuanced performance, and one that is incredibly difficult to copy.

Del Amitri never got the credit they deserved. Because they were a pure pop group (as opposed to power pop) during the alternative era, their three Top 40 singles sounded more like a reaction to the then-current trends, and therefore didn’t translate into album sales. While it’s easy to think of them as a poor man’s Crowded House (smart, melodic songs but without a unifying anthem like “Don’t Dream It’s Over” or “Weather With You”), to do so overlooks their status as creators of some of the best pop music of the 1990s.

Universal doesn’t allow the original video to be embedded, but you can find it here. Instead I’m embedding a video of Currie performing the song during his tour behind his excellent 2007 solo album What Is Love For.

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