Duke Special - I Never Thought This Day Would Come
Michael James Hall 26/06/2009
Piano-led singer/songwriter types can definitely be a good thing. The whole enterprise though, relies either on biting wit and big, bold tunes a la Randy Newman or heartfelt pathos combined with mad experimentation in the vein of Tom Waits.
Sadly, like Ed Harcourt or, if you're feeling sinister Gary Go, maybe even Coldplay, Duke Special doesn't really go the whole way either way and as a result 'I Never Thought…', his third full-length side can come across as a mightily pedestrian affair.
That's not to say that there aren't some melodic treats here.
Opener 'Mockingbird Wish Me Luck'is a Badly Drawn Boy-like ballad of subtlety, twinkling keys and a soaring chorus, while 'If I Don't Feel It' mines a similar emotional seam, all torn, heartfelt vocals, lush instrumentation and a frankly wonderful keyboard part that swoons beautifully behind the main body of the song.
The problems come on more up-beat 'romps' like 'Sweet, Sweet Kisses' and 'Diggin' An Early Grave' that both come across as Vaudeville pastiche rather than heartfelt tribute.
Again on tracks like 'I Never Thought This Day Would Come' (which occasionally sounds a bit like 'A Million Love Songs' by Take That - no bad thing) we drift into music hall sounds, showtune-like structures and lyrics that drift toward the generic.
It's clear that this intended to be a commercially viable proposition - the crisp, clear production and nursery rhyme choruses attest to that - but it seems that Mr Special is still intent on mining strange, more alternative influences.
Sadly the two roads do not meet happily and we're left with a record that strives for several different goals and sadly fails to achieve any of them to any great extent.
His voice is a treat, his songwriting professional and powerful, but it's not enough to make an impactful, genuine album.
A tepid disappointment.