My Very Favorite Album – Heard Through a Wall

The summer of 2000 was pivotal. Having survived the Y2K scare unscathed, I found myself free to explore the spoils of adolescence, which lay buried thinly beneath the more oft-publicized layer of adolescent frustration–I couldn’t yet grow a decently Hasidic beard;  I couldn’t yet adequately express myself to a girl despite wanting to to any girl; I couldn’t yet act upon my ambitions solely by my own means. But I had another kind of freedom that only young people have. Adolescence is, to be sure, a magical and privileged time.

Over the two years of high school that had preceded, the Scottish band Del Amitri had wormed its way into my heart as the Official Band of Greg’s Adolescence. I listened to them the way a born-again Christian listens to Christian things. I quoted them in day-to-day life the way a collegiate quotes things by mandate in term papers even where no quote belongs. I did sit-ups to their CDs at night, and greeted the day to them, albeit begrudgingly, in the harsh high school mornings. Forced cups of orange juice burned like upset bile, I tell you, but the Dels’ sweet, maudlin melodies rang true and filled me with emotion beyond my own means as a middle-class American teenager.

Frontman Justin Currie’s lyrics were my formless guide into manhood. Some Jewish kids had bar mitzvahs. I instead discovered “Change Everything” and then did so. I was only half Jewish.

By the summer of 2000, I’d discovered and internalized the bulk of the band’s repertoire stretching from 1987 to the present, spanning four albums and some fifty B-side tracks. This was the tail end of the Napster era, but I’d spent months scouring the ether for anything from this band that I could find. It was the first time I’d ever used the internet to truly feel like I was accessing other parts of the world. The kinds of rarities I was finding online were things no American could have just had in his or her record collection. I was P2Ping with Scots, Germans, and beyond to fulfill my interests. The more I discovered, the more addicted I became to discovery. The quality of these songs that didn’t even exist in any tangible form in America made me realize that sometimes it’s worth delving beyond what’s presented at face; an important lesson for a young man.

Fred Partington’s Daughter

↑ This was the kind of cleverly touching track that was nonchalantly slipped on the back end of vinyl singles in the UK, never to see the light of the day in the States had it not been for the intensely illegal efforts of the Napster community.

I’m not sure if it was the creepy, unplaceably old-looking cover art or the lack of online discussion about it that deterred me to that point from investigating the band’s eponymous debut album, but I hadn’t. It was the last remaining destination for conquest. In the summer of 2000, I finally arrived. My brother and I had gotten in the habit of making pilgrimages to the now-irrelevant Tower Records. Though it would soon go the way of Napster (which would soon go the way of itself), Tower still had a few full moons of life left in her as the premiere location to discover “CDs,” “DVDs,” and “Generation Xers” with “body piercings.”

On one particular day late in the summer of 2000, we went on such a pilgrimage, and though I had passed it up countless times in the past, this time I stopped on Del Amitri’s “del Amitri.” I picked it up, examined it.

There it is. A stark contrast from the entire rest of the band’s catalog, where every album featured a photograph of the band looking maudlin, muttonchops flapping in the artificial photostudio breeze. What is this even a picture of? What is that creepy little dude in the corner for? Why is the image completely devoid of color save for the woman’s dress and the man’s pants? Why is the woman in that position? Is the man forsaking his live, fellatio-ready girlfriend for a ghost? What gender is the ghost? Is that a ghost? Or is it some sort of Japanese nun rendered Ukiyo style? Why would he forsake fellatio for a Japanese nun? That certainly isn’t in line with the band’s platform. Are the photographs of people on the TV photographs of the people on TV?

Nearly thirteen years later, I still don’t know what the relation is between this piece of art and anything ever.

The backside of the jewel case revealed an equally odd and alien track list, in no way reminiscent of anything else I had seen from the band.

1. Heard Thru a Wall
2. Hammering Heart [Yes. Yes.]
3. Former Owner
4. Sticks and Stones, Girl
5. Deceive Yourself (in Ignorant Heaven)
6. I Was Here
7. Crows in the Wheatfield
8. Keepers
9. Ceasefire
10. Breaking Bread

While the rest of the band’s repertoire had seemed vaguely “Scottish”–as my untraveled mind perceived “Scottishness”–by comparison to the American music it was clearly emulating, this album, even at first glance and prior to first listen, seemed to draw its influences from a quaintly eerie place with which I was wholly unfamiliar.

As a rare privilege my brother let me immediately put the CD on in the car; I’m not really sure why he allowed it this particular time. Either he noticed my exceptional level of excitement, or he too was curious about this oddity.

The opening of “Heard Thru a Wall” was immediately different than any other Del Amitri song I’d heard, of which there were about 100. It started with a lone guitar, clean as clarity, descending a scale. And again. And again, now with a comping secondary guitar. And again. And now with drums. And again. And again. And again. And now with a lead guitar melody, syrupy as sap. And again. And now vocals, unhusky enough to make me doubt it was even the same vocalist. And yet, the finest threads of familiarity.

“Like it or not, you’ll see my face soon,
I’ll force my way up into your room!
The things I say will soon make you swoon:
I’ll point to the sun and say it’s the moon.”

This was the black, cynical, and bafflingly omniscient humor that had pervaded all of Del Amitri’s lyrical career.

“So: You needn’t fret, I’ll get in your life yet,
Make you sit back and enjoy the touch of a boy

Lie over relaxed with your hands in your lap.
Just give me some time so I can work on your spine.”

Fast, frantic, unpredictable, and yet infectious. If you really examine the lyrics, this may be one of the most sinister songs of all time, and yet all of the instruments weave together to create something vibrant and uplifting. By the song’s culmination, you’re sea-deep in a tidal wave of vocal harmonies and sunshine licks.

As a debut album for a band with whom I was otherwise thoroughly versed, it was comparable to rooting through old photographs of your father only to discover he was once a bounty hunter or something. It was definitely somewhere in the Top 5 list of Times I’ve Really Meant it When I Said “Wow!” Loudly. I was really wowed.

Full lyric:

Like it or not, you’ll see my face soon
I’ll force my way up into your room
The things I say will soon make you swoon
I’ll point to the sun and say it’s the moon

So you needn’t fret, I’ll get in your life yet
Make you sit back and enjoy the touch of a boy
Lie over relaxed with your hand on your lap
Just give me some time so I can work on your spine

I’ll turn into jelly by being so kind
I’ll love you to death before your first grasp for breath
I’ll open your doors and take what I findYour heart is gold, it’s just a matter of time

Give me that gold and I’ll melt it down
Give me the tears that I took from your eye
You are not getting so far or going back home
Without regretting that I got your backbone
I’ll turn you into a love lump chum
Come on, submit, why not become one?
It’s just a matter of time

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