Not even Stephen Duffy could have predicted his upturn in fortunes by becoming songwriter with Robbie Williams. After years on the fringes of the musical consciousness, and being the ‘nearly’ man of Britpop: with the fey millstone of Kiss Me in the eighties, through the folk-pop of the lamented Lilac Time and the string of arching solo albums, could this be the time for him to be allowed onto the red carpet of recognition?
Now being given the re-issue treatment after years of fading from view, this gem from 1998 is a worthy reminder of what a genuine talent Duffy has. Creating songs built to last seems far removed from the froth-pop of Kiss Me. This is a healthy reissue, tacking seven extra tracks onto the album, with admittedly varying degrees of necessity.
Opener Tune In cheekily reprises the almost hits from his past from Kiss Me to his current whereabouts before the autobiographical Eucharist begins for proper.
Like that other ’80s survivor, Lloyd Cole, Duffy never lost his ear for a melody, or way with a lyric but continued with the crunchy guitar riffs that peppered this albums predecessor ‘Duffy’. Almost all the tracks take an autobiographical nature weaving truth and fiction into an album indebted to San Franciscan acoustic dreamers, BritPop suss, a stomp of Glam and Leonard Cohen with less gloom, but all the while keeping Duffy’s louche loser in love persona.
Treading a moodswing tightrope between acoustic navel-gazing despair (in a smoky and interesting way) and bouncy-devil-may-care tunes (built for the open road on sunny mornings) this the life of the perpetual teenager, yearning for things (girls, knowledge, opportunities) that are always out of reach.
Indeed Autopsy is the apt title for the dissection of a failed romance as ‘you gave me your life, I gave you make believe’ paints its ache an inch thick to a lush sway of strings, while Postcard is a nostalgic piece of musing with a sting in its tale (sic).
On the flip side, Something Good with its three-chord stomp-along cheer could have been a BritPop anthem if it wasn’t so mocking of the scene itself. She Belongs To All is a Mediterranean breeze of acoustic sunshine that could be The Girl From Ipanema. You Are belts along on a giddy rush of electric guitars wired in from the sixties, thanks in no small part by Duffy’s long term-association with producer Andy Partridge from fellow folk-pop nostalgists XTC.
Unfortunately, the extra tracks are ploddingly predictable apart from the sublime In The Evening of Her Day which fans its melodies in a pale and interesting path from bedroom acoustic start to chamber pop finale. The all too sleight Comedown is the opiate-sister to Dear Prudence in its psychedelic overtones amidst acoustic simplicity. Similarly Grunge-tastic Barbarellas doesn’t really gel as a mini-glam tantrum. House of Flowers is a Carry-On ‘oompah’ of fluff.
Ultimately not as big a showman intent on ‘entertaining you’ as his current employer, but his 20-year career and embarrassment of rich tunes will still be ringing to the ‘bearded boys and lank-haired girls’ for years to come.