Ok, so that’s recorded at the Joshua Tree and produced by Chris Goss, responsible for knob-twiddling on some of Queens Of The Stone Age‘s finest moments. Well, The Duke Spirit, you really aren’t gonna be able to blame any potential problems with Neptune on either location or hired help are you?
If you were a band into hedging your bets, a 12-month decamp to Milton Keynes and roping in Freddy Boggs, spot-faced muppet with a GNVQ in Sound Manipulation from the University Of East Anglia may have been safer. “Yeah, yeah, the album’s a bit of mess, but holed up in the Travelodge we were more bored than Heather Mills at an arse kicking contest, and being directed by a greasy moron didn’t help….”
Still, after a troubled recent past, with record labels folding underneath them just as things were looking to get all exciting in the wake of their debut album, you can understand a desire to get everything right.Because it may not be fair, and it may not be right, but this album is make-or-break for the Spirit. Bubbling around on the cusp of making it is never a good look for anybody; overtaken by the bands they pre-dated, out of kilter with whatever scene is going on underneath, it’s a scary, scary place to be.
Not that first single Step And The Walk reeks of fear. It’s a trillion miles of ass-shaking attitude, Leila Moss cooing like PJ Harvey trapped in a well, as an entire Indian burial ground of shuddering bluesy guitars rampage in the background. It’s then that the true purpose of Goss becomes eminently clear: you know that infinite spookiness that all of the best QOTSA records have, like being trapped in the middle of the deepest darkest woods in the dead of the night, and hearing a faint cry of ‘squeeeeeal piggy!’ in the distance? That’s what The Duke Spirit have got from their trips to the desert of South California and it’s finger-lickin’ gooood.
It gets better: Wooden Heart is fuzzier than Fozzie Bear fronting the The Jesus And Mary Chain in an electrical storm. Sovereign is subtle and ethereal and shorn of the bruising riffs which are their stock-in-trade, it’s almost Mazzy Star-like in it’s languid trawl. Lassoo surprises even more. Starting as the kind of grinding four-to-the-floor stomper of which this album has perhaps two too many, it ends in a solo which shreds more impressively than the fella who does the Peking duck at Hu Jintao’s house, in between growing a chorus of such technicolour brassiness to embarrass John Williams. It’s an unexpected bit of glamour in the dusty trek through Neptune; like finding the mechanic at the last rest stop for four-hundred-thousand miles is wearing sequins.
They pulled out all the stops to get this right, and right it is. Mostly. There are flaws, Neptune’s Call doesn’t do anything that Lassoo didn’t do better and with trumpets about 30 seconds earlier, while the attempt to shoehorn Liela Moss’s smoky purr into the pop stylings of My Sunken Treasure just sounds all wrong – like having Nico presenting Jackanory, but in the grand scheme of things, they are pretty minor.Besides which, any band which can lay waste to the scenery with the gusto with which the shuddering Dog Roses does are clearly on to something.
Something which makes Neptune about as good a return as anyone could have possibly hoped for. An album of murky depth, of seductive charms and no end of style. The Duke Spirit are rolling again.