Oh to be free from creative shackles! To be rid of dizzying record label expectations! To make music for the unbridled fun of it, devoid of pretence or inter-band fracas! Oh to be Marmaduke Duke!
Marmaduke Duke’s deluded fairytale is tough to follow. The band are comprised of two Scottish friends, both of whom are better known for their guitar-biased, musically introspective day jobs.
They are Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro and JP Reid of Sucioperro. For this project the pair have constructed musical alter-egos, and answer to the names of The Atmosphere and The Dragon respectively. Still there? Good. Duke Pandemonium is the second album in a musical trilogy that began with 2005’s The Magnificent Duke.
It might be down to the fact that both members have already found comfort and relative success with their respective bands, but the music of Marmaduke Duke has a tangible, unleashed and unrestrained experimentalism to it. A conduit which channels a zany creativity that would be alien to both Biffy Clyro and Sucioperro.
Further, the story goes that Neil and Reid only started making music together after the suggestion that they could perhaps do something with the time they spent hooking up to play Playstation together. But that ethos of having fun is evidenced in their music – not least by the wonderfully tongue-in-cheek pop of Je Suis Un Funky Homme.
It’s a naive foray into electronica, but it works. And it has a useful knack of stumbling upon moments of pop brilliance. Duke Pandemonium opens with the murky synths of Heartburn, which juxtaposes moody synth lines with an upbeat disco falsetto vocal. And while the racey funk guitar of Everybody Dance is disappointingly one-dimensional, Silhouettes asserts itself as the album’s first standout point and flags the ability of Marmaduke Duke’s ragged songwriting equations to formulate irresistibly listenable music.
While Rubber Lover is a highlight, that single is a misrepresentation of the album holistically, which is less direct and accessible, and – in places – much darker. Points of reference are sparse, the mood ever shifting. No sooner has a motif been established than it is deconstructed by waves of scatty electronica. Pandemonium has the kind of blissful electronic breakdown that is more reminiscent of Four Tet than the loud guitars of Biffy Clyro or Sucioperro.
However, moments such as Erotic Robotic, which sounds like a very poor imitation of the shiny funked-up disco mayhem of Muscles, see Marmaduke Duke suffering from a lack of direction. And yet, while it might make the album hit and miss, it is precisely this wayward approach to music that makes Marmaduke Duke’s music such intriguing, slightly bizarre, but always fun listening.
Biffy Clyro and Sucioperro stalwarts should approach this with caution, lest they be forever damaged by the entirely atypical light that Marmaduke Duke’s torch shines on Neil and Reid, for Duke Pandemonium is creative, exciting, and it doesn’t have its head irrevocably jammed up its own backside. As such it can be filed under V for Victory.