5th April 2015
Another cult artist that can pre-sell albums on Pledge Music and tours and reliably sees the same audience year on year, Duke Special keeps turning out his idiosyncratic music and his regular fans keep lapping it up.
Much like another cult favourite, Jackie Leven, the Duke likes to make a big, often symphonic, sound for his releases, encasing the songs in a permanent buffed and polished format. That’s except for the non-mainstream releases like A Stage, A Book And The Silver Screen – where arrangements are much simpler. And just like the much-missed Mr Leven, I prefer the simpler format. Mr Special has a way with the intimate song and that works really well live, where he usually has just his piano and a percussionist. His winning Irish lilt comes through strong either way and the songs are the same songs but I’d rather have the sketch than the oil painting.
This is another strong set of songs – unsurprisingly, since Duke Special can write a winning song to order – having previously set to composing strong suites on silent movies, Huckleberry Finn and an almost forgotten Irish popular singer. Statues is a touching song of loss and regret and slightly less dressed up than some others. Elephant’s Graveyard has more than a touch of The Lightening Seeds about it in production, while Step To The Magical goes all electro-dancefloor sequencer. “Jesus and his blood don’t mean that much any more”, begins In A Dive, an exploration of living in doubt, open to experience. Son Of The Left Hand is turned out as a big electro-stomper yet is probably a delicate treat live. The title track is a sweeping electronic meditation on change. The first single, Nail On The Head is catchy and strong so I look forward to hearing it in a stripped down format. It serves as a pretty good snapshot of what to expect from the album, whereas Tweed Coats is played solo on piano and shows what a simple and distinctive style the Duke has, conjuring up images in simple turns of phrase and beautifully expressed. Stepping Stones, while dressed in synth tones, lets the song and voice through nice and clear – a winning pop song. Domino completes a very strong closing trio with an anthemic song that overcomes the added colour.
If you’ve liked previous releases, you’ll love this. If you’d like a “special” (sic) experience, catch yourself one of the regular gigs (he’s a busy man), the Stage, Book, Screen set or one of his early albums.