Duke Special – Oh Pioneer
There’s always been a fairy-tale element to Duke Special’s music that transports the listener to different worlds. That’s something Belfast-based Peter Wilson’s alter ego has managed to pull off again in this first new “commercial” album since 2008 – though a host of side projects have kept him busy and his fans sated in this time.
Going four years without a major release can put expectations on an artist, but any pressure that Wilson may have felt has been harnessed positively into pulling together these 11 tales of astronomy, outlawed Israeli children’s books, pirates and much more.
Wilson’s gentle vocal is reminiscent of Badly Drawn Boy, and the narrative approach to song writing is similar also. That said; it’s been years since Badly Drawn Boy produced anything of this quality.
Driven in the main by a piano and percussion as gentle as the vocal, the production is mixed to ensure that the strength of the lyrics come to the fore. The use of woodwind instruments contrasting with electronics help create an enchanting world, and indeed there is a theme of escapism that runs throughout the album, from the slightly restrained opener ‘Stargazers of the World Unite’, through a wonderful cast of characters, until it concludes with a tale of a pirate having something of a mid-life crisis.
No matter how dark the lyrics get – “I’m better for the punch of a friend” – Wilson’s voice remains vibrant and alluring, demanding the listener pay attention – not only to the songs, but to the stories being told in them. It takes a deep look at the human condition, and no more obviously than on ‘Condition’, when Wilson lays mankind bare through a form of self-address similar to John Lennon’s ‘God’: “I’m belief, I am science, I am peace, I am defiance.”
This is a more serious effort than 2008’s ‘I Never Thought This Day Would Come’. It’s less playful and therefore the pace lacks the sprightliness that many might expect. The consistent tone holds it together though, with heartstrings being plucked as often as the instruments used to bring it all together.
Oh Pioneer is released on July 9th via Adventures in Gramophone
Posted by Kevin Scott
Tags: 2012, album review, duke special, Kevin Scott, oh pioneer