So begins another attempt to make Peter Wilson aka Duke Special a star in England. Of course he is huge in his native Ireland but up until now dear old Blighty has remained resilient to his full-fronted assault of jaunty showtunes and bouncy pop music.
I Never Thought This Day Would Come knocked around the Irish charts for the best part of 2008 and now comes the UK release, which is skimmed to a more concise running time by the exclusion of The Prop Man.
There is something about Wilson that the Brits just don’t get. Maybe it’s the white-boy dreadlocks and eyeliner, or perhaps the rather obvious musical homage to burlesque and music hall that permeate his music. Whatever it is I don’t hear his music shortlisted on any of our radio stations.
All of which is frankly ridiculous when you consider the second track on this album. Sweet Sweet Kisses is as fine a pop song as was released last year, a veritable carnival ride of a melody hitched to the perfect boy meets girl lyric and some stonking brass parping. You have to admire Wilson’s resilience when he releases something as good as this as a single. If it had Xenomania on the credits it would have wormed its way into our charts by now.
Oddly enough, Sweet Sweet Kisses is by and large in a category of its own on I Never Thought This Day Would Come. The rest is largely downbeat fare, epitomised by the first track Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck. This haunting piano ballad has the cojones to open the album with the line “I’m so unsure of myself”, which is oddly reminiscent of Elvis Costello‘s lead-in to Armed Forces – “Oh I just don’t where to begin.”
By the time the listener reaches the third track Those Proverbs We Made In The Winter Must End the modus operandi of Wilson becomes readily obvious. Swirling orchestral arrangements backing nagging piano-driven melodies, with literate, articulate lyrics that never lose sight of popular appeal.
Wilson’s ability to switch between several musical genres becomes apparent quickly, with the jaunty ska beat of Diggin’ An Early Grave masking the morbidity of the subject matter. I Never Thought This Day Would Come (And Now It Won’t Go Away), meanwhile, gives Rufus Wainwright a run for his money in the camp dramatics stakes.
Why Does Anybody Love? is a telling song, drifting along in a manner reminiscent of classic-era Elton John without ever really nailing a killer chorus to drive the song home. It’s at times like this that you realise what masters of the songwriting craft Elton and Bernie Taupin really were.
One of the major problems with I Never Thought This Day Would Come is that the album rather loses its focus in the second half. Flesh And Blood Dance, Let Me Go (Please Please Please!) and By The Skin Of My Teeth rather overplay the vaudeville element, while If I Don’t Feel It and Nothin’ You Could Do Can Bring Me Round are big ballads that struggle to connect.
It’s left to the rather out of character Nothing Comes Easy to carry the second side, with Wilson digging deep to convey the most heartfelt song on the album.
A curious mixture of the mainstream and oddball, it is difficult to see what target audience Duke Special should be aimed at. Maybe it’s just music that the Irish get.