Despite its equally important cultural role in Australia, India and elsewhere, there are still few activities as quintessentially English as cricket. It’s ironic then that despite the valiant earlier efforts of 10CC, Roy Harper and others from the birthplace of the sport, it is two men hailing from across the Irish Sea who have been most successful in capturing its unique idiosyncrasies in song.
Released in 2009, the eponymous debut from The Duckworth Lewis Method (a means of determining the result of a rain interrupted one day match that has been met with universal bemusement) was the brainchild of The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and his fellow Irish eccentric Thomas Walsh of Pugwash. It took both men’s flair for flamboyantly foppish, intricately arranged chamber pop and wedded it to a series of esoteric cricket references, ranging from Shane Warne’s ‘ball of the century’ that dismissed England captain Mike Gatting in the 1993 Ashes to a trip in a Volkswagen camper fan to meet former Pakistan captain Javed Miandad. Despite the predictably high silliness factor, by and large the record was endearing rather than irritating, garnering widespread praise from both music and cricketing enthusiasts.
Four years on, and with another Ashes tour to these shores imminent, Hannon and Walsh have decided to return to the crease for a second innings. It’s certainly a bold move – while one quirky concept album about cricket was a welcome oddity, surely a similar sequel is pushing the idea too far?
The answer is probably yes, yet such is the infectious jollity, wit and inventiveness of much of Sticky Wickets, it’s hard to be too churlish. The Duckworth Lewis Method is essentially exactly the same as before; mostly upbeat knees ups, heavily influenced by music hall and ’70s soft rock and as stuffed full of cricketing trivia as the Wisden Almanac.
The opening title track sets the tone, with vintage synthesisers, vocoder, glam rock guitar and high pitched vocal harmonies all wheeled out within the first minute before the first, albeit probably the weakest, of the many singalong choruses to follow. By third track It’s Just Not Cricket, the boys have well and truly played themselves in, with cheesy brass flourishes, rollicking bar room piano and the plummy tones of much-loved commentator Henry Blofeld all thrown into the mix.
The Umpire changes the mood a little; it’s a wistful ballad that reflects on how technology has changed the role of the sport’s age-old officials. However, there’s not long to wait before the tempo goes up again, with the soaring ELO pastiche Third Man arguably the catchiest track on the whole record, featuring a bizarre spoken word cameo from Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.
The strong material continues with the elegiac, contemplative Out In The Middle, probably the best song on the album lyrically with couplets like “You can have a suit from Savile Row, you can have a yacht down in Monaco, but have you got what you need to go, out in the middle”, while the epic Judd’s Paradox features Stephen Fry as a suitably authoritative guest vocalist. There are also a couple more slices of jollity to enjoy with the rambunctious Laughing Cavaliers and the absurdly twee Nudging And Nurdling, which brings play to a close.
After a few listens, most will probably tire a little of Sticky Wickets, but to knock Hannon and Walsh for lacking staying power would be harsh. Once again, they have come up with a lovingly crafted tribute to the idiosyncrasies of England’s summer sport, and those who approach it as a bit of harmless fun will be humming these songs with a smile on their face at least until the final ball of the Ashes series is bowled.