Friday, 24 October 2008

The Duke's still Special

I knew that there had to be an advantage (other than convenient access to international matches) to living in Northern Ireland as opposed to the rest of the UK. Availability of Duke Special’s second studio album, whilst mainland Britain must content itself with the equivalent download, finally provides one. My understanding is that contractual issues with Duke’s previous record company have dictated that the CD is not available in the shops in England, Scotland or Wales.

Waiting for a few more months to acquire the disc might not seem like a great imposition, but ‘I Never Thought This Day Would Come’ is appositely named. ‘Songs From the Deep Forest’, Duke Special’s brilliant first album, was first released well over two years ago. It has been a long wait for fans, mitigated only by the release of EPs, downloads and regular touring.

The ‘tricky second album’ is a well worn musical cliché, so does the Duke’s album fall into this trap? Duke Special is relentlessly creative and the answer is a definite ‘no’, although that is not to say that there are not laboured moments amongst the new release’s gems.

It is with one of these rare lapses in fluency that the record opens. On the first couple of listens ‘Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck’ seems a little ponderous, if pleasingly whimsical. However, the Duke swiftly hits his stride. ‘Sweet, Sweet Kisses’ is an addictive piece of pop, there’s almost a hint of bubblegum, and it will no doubt sell well as the album’s first single.

‘I Never Thought This Day Would Come’ reflects accurately the mix of eccentric fun and cerebral subtlety which characterises Duke Special’s music. ‘Diggin’ an Early Grave’, is a Victorian, monster mash stomp, which is certain to be a live highlight. ‘Flesh and Blood Dance’ has already proved a crowd favourite when it was introduced to audiences last year. ‘Let Me Go (Please Please Please)’ could be the Duke’s take on a George Harrison Beatles song and ‘By the Skin of My Teeth’ offers an up beat swing number.

There are torch lit moments on this record too. The contemplative ‘Those Proverbs we made in the Winter Must End’ is joined by the achingly beautiful ‘If I don’t Feel It’. Then there’s the musing ‘Why Does Anyone Love’ and blues-tinged ‘Nothing You Could Do Can Bring Me Round’.

The test of any album is how the listener lives with it over months and years to come. Immediately though, ‘I Never Thought This Day Would Come’, has pleasures to yield. Whether it matches the sustained appeal of ‘Songs From the Deep Forest’, time well tell.

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