Friday, July 17, 2009

divine diversion

Who doesn't love a bit of English foppery? Certainly, Neil Hannon, he of The Divine Comedy, is a full-on fan. Three years on from the glorious and exquisite "Victory For The Comic Muse" and a few months before he returns with the next TDC meisterwerk later this year, Neil has teamed up with Thomas Walsh of the Irish band, Pugwash, as The Duckworth Lewis Method who just released their eponymous longplayer. Please note tongue firmly in cheek.

The CD features 12 tracks. But if you're a fan of the newfangled, digital download configuration, you'll get a 16 song edition when you purchase the album from iTunes including a bonus track and a few demos.

The Duckworth Lewis Method, named for the mathematical way to calculate the target score for the team batting second in a one-day cricket match interrupted by weather or other circumstance, is a sonic collision of English styles from "Sgt. Pepper" era Beatles, the acoustic lilt of The Byrds, a bit of psychedelia and the swagger of early 70s glam sprinkled with touches of ELO and XTC. Orchestral flourishes and French chanson, usually associated with The Divine Comedy, are present, as well. 

Essentially, the album sounds like The Divine Comedy, which is mostly due to the significant presence of Neil Hannon's trademark croon. As you would expect, the project is a concept album about cricket.

The album is bookended by Beatles inspired, sonic references with "The Coin Toss" leading the proceedings with a short, sunny intro. It is immediately followed by the  chunky, skiffle-inspired "The Age Of Revolution" which lumbers along a rubbery, synth bass line and muted, horn figure.

"Gentlemen And Players" is a more pastoral affair dressed in shades of Amen Corner. And then we're treated to "The Sweet Spot", a rollicking, glam track with fuzzy synth lines and a blues infused vocal that wears its 60s influences on its sleeve. It's more of a nod to The Move than ELO, but the Jeff Lynne-isms are clearly present. In fact, you can hear much of that woven through the aural context of the entire album.

Of course, every song has a humorous bent to it and none more so than "Jiggery Pokery", which skips along at a clip with the middle section building into something sounding akin to a "Monty Python" skit.

"Mason On The Boundary" taps into the west coast, soft rock sound with lazily delivered lyrics and laid back harmonies. It comes across like Bread meets America with splashes of Alan Parsons Project for good measure.

"Rain Stops Play" is a jolly instrumental which is derailed at the last chord and swiftly moves into "Meeting Mr. Miandad", another Beatlesque homage complete with scripted, character chatter and ELO leanings which are especially evident in the sighed backing vocals in the choruses.

DLM bring the tempo down for "The Nightwatchman". It's the odd man out as it's more mellow soft rock leanings in an early 80s, Chris Rea kind of way. But it's the sweet sound of this song which cleanses the aural palette after large doses of clever, cricket witticisms and comedic touches.

"Flatten The Hay" brings us back to late 60s England with a harpsichord driven number in 3/4 time which sounds like a distant cousin of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood". Halfway through the song, they drift into sounding like XTC somewhere between "The Big Express" and "Skylarking" with Neil's vocals verging on a near imitation of Andy Partridge. "Test Match Special" continues their fascination and fantasy with XTC by embellishing it with some late 80s, synth backing.

The biggest nod to The Beatles on the album, fittingly enough, comes at the end of "The End Of The Over" which concludes with a single, emphatically hammered, piano chord, but not before it incorporates a Speak & Spell count in 6/8 time, some choral rounds, barbershop backgrounds and a short, reprise of the opening track, "The Coin Toss", conveniently bringing the entire song cycle full circle.

In conclusion, "The Duckworth Lewis Method" is a smartly written, kaleidoscopic, musical adventure through the beautiful and rather silly world of cricket as seen through the keen, observational lyrics typically associated with Neil Hannon's full time gig. Perhaps this diversion gave him some time away from The Divine Comedy after their departure from EMI, the label that released their previous, two albums, allowing Neil the ability to revisit his day job with a new joie de vivre, some finely fermented sarcasm, new experiences from which to craft a few stories, as well as an infusion of piss and vinegar that comes with the fire of being inspired.

Surprisingly, the songs work in stripped down, live setting, as well. Check out these three performances from July 2, 2009 on a tiny stage the size of a picnic table at Tower Records in Dublin.

"The Age Of Revolution"

"Gentlemen And Players"

"Mr. Miandad"

Lovely! I thought Tower Records saw the ass end of the drain pipe a few years back.

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