There’s enough feedbacking squall and gothic clang on the band’s third album.
Noel Gardner 2011
It’s almost a rock’n’roll cliche: the group that took years to write their debut album, and then were horsewhipped back into the studio by labels with eyes fixed to their balance sheets. The result: a rushed and unsatisfying follow-up. Credit, therefore, to London quintet The Duke Spirit – and the labels that have mothered them over the years – for allowing the band some three-and-a-half years between each of their three albums to date.
What, then, have the band been up to since issuing their second full-length, Neptune, in early 2008? In rough order: enduring a line-up change, touring incessantly, being cooed over by the late Alexander McQueen and, eventually, recording Bruiser. By the standards of their previous two albums, unpolished garage blues located near 80s bands like The Gun Club or early Bad Seeds, these 12 songs are hi-fi and buffed. This is probably the result of production duties being handed to Andrew Scheps, an American more normally employed as engineer for genuine rock superstars. Rest assured, though, that there’s still feedbacking squall and gothic clang, and The Duke Spirit still sound like The Duke Spirit.
This could be taken equally to suggest that they don’t seem to be stretching themselves hugely on here. Several numbers (such as Procession, and the radio rock-ish Running Fire) are surface-level successful, in that their riffs have a rich timbre and pleasing arrangement, and Liela Moss belts out a catchy lyrical refrain until each song finishes and you can’t recall much about it. This may be one reason why they’ve never accrued a breakout hit, or song recognisable beyond their fanbase.
Attempts to diverge, meanwhile, are successful: Villain is a borderline ballad which is sometimes stripped to naught but piano and vocals; and the Billy Corgan-worthy guitars on Bodies impress. But it’s a shame that they share disc space with the likes of Sweet Bitter Sweet, where Moss’ big-lunged and vaguely lustful vocals come off like a bloodless impersonation of PJ Harvey, a comparison that’s often dogged her and the band. Assuming we can expect album number four no earlier than 2014, you do wonder quite how relevant The Duke Spirit will be by that point.