Review of Duke Special's album 'I Never Thought This Day Would Come'.
Duke Special aka Peter Wilson is a cool guy. Dreadlocks aside, he's known not only for the multi-platinum selling Songs From The Deep Forest, but his electric live show, where he often uses old 78s and radio buzz to compliment the already vast instrumentation used to accompany the piano-based songs. It all sounds very convoluted, but it works splendidly. And it's this instrumentation and smoky production that stands out the most upon first listening to I Never Thought This Day Would Come. Recorded notably in 3 countries, the first track, the haunting Mockingbird Wish Me Luck has a Sufjan Stevens sound to it, distinct with lots of space in the instrumentation and a solemn feel. This crispness in the production fades after this first track and we're treated to a much heavier sound which compliments the music very well. And the music really is fantastic here, a sonic landscape (a soundscape?) filled with woodwind, brass, strings- anything that might be found in a full orchestra, plus, on a few tracks, a hammond organ. It's enough to keep any listener busy on the first play of the record, and yet doesn't seem swollen or too busy.
It's all very tasty, but the good taste the first listen leaves in your mouth is dulled somewhat when the album is held to scrutiny over repeated listens. A few songs on here are absolutely stunning; I Don't Feel It and Why Does Anybody Love? really stand out for me as tracks that are eminently palatable no matter how worn out the CD is, but with only a handful of songs being this good, it's a bit of a letdown.
However, we can't expect the album to be chock-full of gems, and Wilson seems to be able to make up for it through sheer charm. On Flesh And Blood Dance - a song about a skeleton wanting to become human - it's not just the subject matter that makes this akin to the songs in Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. And the whole album has this music hall, ballroom feel to it. The songs that don't stand out as much for their content, stand out instead for their style. On By The Skin Of My Teeth, I can't help but imagine Wilson, tuxedo-clad and performing at a ball, sipping cheekily on the guests drinks as he sings this song, dancing between the tables.
Another thing that adds to the class of the album is Wilson's voice. It's very impressive throughout. He lets his Northern Irish accent come into play on songs like Digging An Early Grave, but on the aforementioned If I Don't Feel It, he sounds somewhere between James LaBrie (of Dream Theater, with less wail) and Rufus Wainwright. He proves to be quite the chameleon in the course of the album's 12 tracks (13 if you buy it on iTunes), and it's a delight to listen to. The changes in vocal style aren't unnecessary either, each style he sings in suits the particular song.
Overall, this is a great album- I'd recommend it to anybody who likes to enjoy their music, in spite of the melancholy tone. It's an easy listen, but does provide depth in repeated listens - just not to the degree I was hoping it would.
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