In an era when most internationally prominent Scottish bands were guzzling at the Byrds/Big Star pop bar, chugging down Stones sterno or staring vacantly at their shoes, this uncommon Glasgow quartet (whose bassist, John McElhone, formerly played it twee in Altered Images and funky in Hipsway) elected instead to pour a glossed-up mainstream Americana brew of bland radio rock flavored with folk-rock and country. Sharleen Spiteri’s deep, handsome, unaccented voice sounds like the new Nashville; her bandmates’ agile backing, though, is too modern-rock to be part of that world. Although the derivative, bland songs (mostly Spiteri/McElhone collaborations) on Southside don’t pander stupidly enough to explain it, the record was a major worldwide success. (But who gets the songwriting royalties for “Everyday Now,” a number that lifts its refrain from “I Shall Be Released”?)
Evincing more commercial desire than stylistic integrity, Texas added a keyboard player, changed drummers and lunged hard at all manner of Transeurolantic pop furnishings on Mothers Heaven, a varied heap of dull dung. The title track scales down Simple Minds mock-gospel grandiosity (with backing vocals by Maria McKee); “Why Believe in You” jiggers through a dramatic modern dance; “This Will All Be Mine” sinks down for atmospheric harmonica blues; “Return” is acoustic skiffle; “In My Heart” has a catchy Linda Ronstadt-type chorus. Spiteri is a fine singer, but dressing up such generic writing in so many different outfits makes Texas seem awfully desperate to find something — anything — that might stick.
The songs are still underwritten (endless repetition is a mild problem), but Ricks Road, produced by Paul Fox, is actually good. Integrating a retro-rocking core from bits of Delaney and Bonnie, Linda Ronstadt, the Pretenders, Annie Lennox and Bonnie Raitt, the quintet doesn’t try half as hard and comes across twice as nice. Accented with, not dominated by, country, bluesy or gospel-rock fervor, Spiteri gives full voice to such memorable, straightforward songs as “You Owe It All to Me,” “You’ve Got to Live a Little,” “Listen to Me,” “So Called Friend” and a credible (if oversung) cover of Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone.” If Texas hasn’t bagged a sound of its own yet, at least the group is finally shopping in the right aisle.