Photo credit: dukespecial.com
I was introduced to Duke Special along with his eighth album, Look Out Machines!, which is set to be released today. Armed with the image of a quirky deadlocked man, with heavy guy-liner, and the knowledge of a few of his more popular hits – such as Freewheel – I listened to his new album with an open mind. I was unburdened with the usual expectations of an artist who has been around for thirteen years.
In the midst of second term deadlines, the album was a great backdrop for essay writing. Duke Special’s Irish accented vocals were undeniably pleasant on the ears. The album contained a deliberate electronic feel, with synthetic instruments; yet the solo-artist’s voice came across purely authentic.
The playlist carried like a wave; the pace and volume at a height for the first few tracks, then mellowing out for the next couple, only to reach its peak and then conclude the album on a medium. Ironically, I found the verses to be the highlight of each song. Their steady instrumental progressions allowed for Duke Special’s voice and lyrics to take centre stage. They created a promising build up, which usually concluded in the fruition of a generic and slightly cheesy chorus. This was prevalent in songs such as ‘Step to the Magical’; yet potentially, a more upbeat human being may find the bouncy slightly distorted reggae beat and extra-terrestrial electronic sounds in the chorus prime dancing material. And it sure did fit with the magical and whimsical feel that the song may have been going for.
My stand out tracks, on the album, were the likes of ‘Tweed Coats’, ‘Statues’ and ‘In a Dive’. The former included a recording of public noises behind delicate piano playing – Duke Special revealed this to be a street in Belfast, during his performance of the track at the Exeter Phoenix performance in his 2015 tour (yet I’m not sure whether the album track uses the same recording). While the latter track, In a Dive, focuses on his discovery of religious morals [“I have seen God, in all these kinds of Dives”] in unexpected places, rather than where they are usually expected to be found.
The album is at its best when focused on Duke Special’s vocals and piano playing. It contained a great scope of subjects from religion to the archaic view of left handed people. Its paradoxical utilisation of electronic sounds and synthetic instruments is both contradictory to its title – warning the machines in a seemingly antagonistic light – and humorous. Unfortunately, I’m not in the position to say whether this is Duke Special’s best album; however, it is a decent album, with some stand out singles that I’ll be adding to my collection of music. The album is available on iTunes, Amazon and more online and in store retailers; it is worth a listen to whether you’re looking for new music or are a long-time fan.