On Song To America Patrick Duff sings “The man who has chosen to sing his own song is the one who will sing like a King..”. It’s certainly a gallant concept. It’s a shame then that Mr Duff spends the majority of this album rehashing the stale leftovers of the ’70s Rolling Stones, old hackneyed blues and the bat droppings of ’80s Goth.
Patrick Duff was the lead singer and songwriter in Strangelove. I never cared for Strangelove, they always seemed like a adolescent Bad Seeds in search of a Nick Cave. Patrick’s songs and mannerisms borrowed from more talented others and the band never got close to transcending their influences. They were a ballet of indie rock moves lacking centre or soul.
I hoped that a period of time in the musical wilderness, six years plus in fact since Strangelove’s last LP, may have stained his muse and twisted his psyche into producing something that screamed from the speakers. Music that had Patrick’s stamp on it, that was original, seething and bleeding. I hoped in vain.
From the trite observations of the opening Married With Kids, it’s clear that Patrick seems to have nothing new to say and no new way of saying it. The Xeroxed Rolling Stones lite backing is much closer to the Dandy Warhols‘ Bohemian Like You than the gritty, debauched originals. The lyrics are spitefully lacking empathy and insight, like Martin Amis’ cruel and clich�d characterisations of the working class.
There are a clutch of tracks that are loosely blues based, My Junkie Clothes, Early Morning Birds, DJ Yoga and Refrigerator. These songs stick to a basic formula: that of a repeated riff, either on an electric or acoustic guitars, and barked vocals. The vocals are so mannered in places that they come across like a Shakespearian ham reciting the lyrics to a Nick Cave B-side.
I understand that Patrick is a keen student of the blues but these songs fail to gel. Where the White Stripes or Jon Spencer can conjure musical alchemy from base metal, unfortunately here we are left with just a third hand history lesson. Elephant Bills’ attempt to relocate the blues into modern day Bristol fails miserably. It’s so bad that it could be a joke but I don’t think it is.
There is one pearl amongst the swine. Mother Nature’s Refugee is a gentle swoon. Duff’s voice is unadorned and tender. Backed by little more than his acoustic guitar and the barest of drums brushes he connects. It’s a beautiful moment. It’s a pity that there just aren’t anymore of them on this record.
Burn Mother Nature’s Refugee and forget the rest.