The Duckworth Lewis Method, prior to being a budding offshoot of Neil Hannon’s The Divine Comedy, has been known as a mutually accepted way of endeavouring to settle a cricket match that has fallen foul of the weather.
Already the parallels are irresistible. Since the UK, and the world in general, has fallen foul of the weather in all sorts of ways this year, what better way of settling the score and providing some sunshine than a concept album about cricket?
Before you sigh deeply at the thought of an album played out over five days, with intervals for lunch, tea and cucumber sandwiches, fear not – for the game of cricket, as Hannon recognises, has moved on to a new era, where “now we’re driving Bentleys, playing 20-20”.
Hannon’s partner in crime is fellow Irishman and Pugwash member Thomas Walsh, and together they walk into bat, humming a set of catchy tunes punctuated with very English observations. For this isn’t just an album about the thwack of willow on leather – it recognises a form of Englishness in danger of falling by the wayside.
It’s also strongly biographical. Jiggery Pokery sets the scene for the Old Trafford Ashes test of 1993, when Shane Warne announced his arrival to the sporting world with the ‘ball of the century’, bowling Mike Gatting with a ball that defied gravity. In this setting it’s as if Gatting met up with Gilbert & Sullivan on his way back to the pavilion, the hilarious lyrics applied to a Nellie-The-Elephant-style backing. The batsman, presumed to be thinking of his lunch, is out for a “buggering duck”, proclaiming “I hate Shane Warne!” as he stalks off.
For this he receives a starry backing of slip fielders, with Alexander Armstrong and Phill Jupitus among those drafted in to twang their braces and shout “baboon” at regular intervals, the knees-up gathering momentum.
Just as good is lead single The Age Of Revolution, a mixture of traditional jazz and old-style reggae set over a sample of brass from a bygone era, the cheeky riff backing proclamations of cricket unity “from Bangalore to Kingston”. It’s cricket as Lord Kitchener might have remembered it, when the Commonwealth was more widely accepted.
Elsewhere, Messrs Hannon and Walsh delight in how they’re “meeting Mr Miandad” on a trip to Pakistan, while “Mason’s gone to Zanzibar, underneath his Panama” (Mason On The Boundary). They exploit the limitless potential for double meaning in the lyrics, hitting The Sweet Spot in the middle of the bat, “sweet as apple pie”. Meanwhile The Nightwatchman arrives at the crease in times of adversity, his acts of self sacrifice framed by distinctly Elgarian strings. There’s even time to dodge the showers with an oboe-led instrumental, Rain Stops Play.
With not a dot ball or an overthrow, The Duckworth Lewis Method is an unqualified success. The first Ashes test between England and Australia starts two days after the physical release of this album – and if you’ve any sense, you’ll be playing this record over lunch, tea, and dinner on all five days.