Duke Special doesn’t need the charts – but they could do with more artists like him.
Mike Diver 2012
Since earning nominations for both the Meteor Prize and the Choice Music Prize for his second album Songs from the Deep Forest, Duke Special has maintained an admirable course of consistency. The Belfast-born artist, real name Peter Wilson, hasn’t once compromised integrity for a proper pop at mainstream success on either side of the Irish Sea.
As a result, many of his long-players – Oh Pioneer is his tenth – have failed to connect with industry movers and shakers capable of convincing a public to invest in a new (to them) artist. But these 11 tracks are, probably, his most immediate songs since Songs from the Deep Forest. They occupy a similar stylistic space, where a very palpable lyrical ache plays out against backdrops of gentle piano motifs and light but playful percussion, and brass and woodwind embellishments.
One senses that Wilson could pen a song for any chart-humping superstar in a heartbeat, and do very well out of the deal, thank you very much. His songs possess a purity that the likes of Gary Barlow have channelled to amazing returns. Numbers like Lost Chord and Punch of a Friend are swaying, soft-hearted affairs that only the gifted can make sound like second nature. Always Been There pulls the kind of piano-pop shapes that Keane earn their considerable crust with, and is an effortlessly endearing equal of said act’s more inspired output.
Oh Pioneer, as its title goes some way to implying, isn’t without its moments of experimentation. Condition is a striking piece, growling guitars and buzzing electronics opening beside Wilson’s usual delicate way with a piano. But it’s the song’s lyrics that really grab, self-analysis via economical poetry, couplets like “I’m a pin drop / I am Phil Spector” more affecting in action than they probably seem on screen. And who can’t love a song that name-checks the Sinclair ZX81, honestly.
A quiet success, Oh Pioneer is one for when the rush subsides and all the listener can do is wallow in another’s embracing soundworld. Duke Special doesn’t need the charts – but they could do with more artists like him.