Published on April 11th, 2009 | by Darren Byrne2
Duke Special – I Never Thought This Day Would Come
To follow Lottie’s Duke Special and Divine Comedy post, here’s my review of Duke‘s most recent album, I Never Thought This Day Would Come.
I have been a fan of Duke Special for the past 7 years and I am inevitably going to compare this album with his previous and earlier work. I Never Thought This Day Would Come, with a few exceptions, lacks the raw nerve and energy of the early EPs and overall it suffers from the same overproduction that turned Freewheel from a dramatic cry for freedom on the Lucky Me EP to just another pop song on Songs From the Deep Forest.
In truth, Duke is an artist that must be seen live, whether it be with his big band at the Meteors or solo in a small town theatre. It is his pure energy, cabaret style and dramatic flair that separates him from all the other artist on the circuit today. He is, in my opinion, the best male performer and songwriter working in Ireland today. This album does display some of his talent but it is in a live set that he excels.
Mockingbird Wish Me Luck is a beautiful tune to open the album and the brilliant Sweet Sweet Kisses follows. Looking at both tracks together, it is like a playoff between duke’s vaudeville side and his pop side. Mockingbird is soft and soulful, while Sweet Sweet Kisses is a wonderful toe-tapper that forces a smile. Here’s the video for the track:
The album continues in a similar vein, with Those Proverbs We Made In The Winter Must End (co-written with Bernard Butler) inspiring thought, while Diggin’ An Early Grave inspires dance. Indeed, Diggin‘ is probably the best mix of the cabaret and crowd pleasing sensibilities. In concert, it has rapidly become one of my favourite Duke tracks.
I Never Thought This Day Would Come, the title track, is indelibly linked with Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon in my head, ever since last year’s Amnesty International gig in Vicar Street, Duke Special vs Divine Comedy. It’s a beautiful tune with a dry comic counterpoint.
The bittersweet love track Why Does Anybody Love comes next and will undoubtedly be released as a single, while the Flesh and Blood Dance is pure early Duke. With its heavy beat and I suspect heavy influences from band member Temperance Society Chip Bailey (yip, that’s what they call him), it’s one that would probably work better at the live shows.
If I Don’t Feel It is dark and wistful. Sounding like it’s been plucked straight out of Rufus Wainwright’s songbook, it is pleasant and full of great lines (“full of memories like wine”), but it lacks the frenetic energy I associate with Duke.
Let Me Go (Please, Please, Please) picks up the pace again and I am hesitant about my next comment, simply because it sounds negative but that isn’t the intention: it sounds like it could be the theme tune to some kids TV show. It’s chipper and quirky and is a track that’s easy to sing-a-long to. The lyrics save it from the pits of Saturday morning kiddie TV hell.
And my heart’s saying please
On a pair of bleeding knees
Please, please, please let me go
The next track begins like the slow sequel to Diggin an Early Grave, but By the Skin of My Teeth is far too simple and formulaic to sit alongside the other tracks on the album. It feels like padding, and even after a third or forth listen, I find myself drawn to the skip forward button. Nothing Comes Easy by contrast is original, strong, smart and proves that there’s far more to Duke than vaudeville pop and funky hair. Not that we needed any proof, of course.
Closing on the slow lament Nothing You Can Do Can Bring Me Round. The story of a man who has lost his memory is equally happy and sad. A definite contender for next single from the album, it will definitely be getting a lot of play on my iPod, at least.