Record Review: Stephen Duffy – The Ups + Downs DLX RM

stephen duffy - theups+downsUKDLXRMA

Cherry Pop | UK | CD | 2008 | CRPOP11

Stephen Duffy: The Ups + Downs UK  DLX RM CD [2008]

  1. Kiss Me
  2. She Makes Me Quiver
  3. A Masterpiece
  4. But Is It Art?
  5. Wednesday Jones [Dixie]
  6. Icing On The Cake
  7. The Darkest Blues
  8. Be There
  9. Believe In Me
  10. The World At Large Alone [Remix]
  11. Kiss Me [1982] [Unidentified Bob Lamb Mix]
  12. Holes In My Shoes
  13. Love’s Duet
  14. Baby Impossible
  15. In This Twilight [Long]
  16. Little Lost Boy
  17. Broken Home

I was looking for something on at the start of the year and I saw the same row of come-ons that I usually did. I noticed that one of them was this album; long pencilled in as a “must buy.” I clicked to see its status, since the price given was a modest seventeen and change. My eyebrows raised considerably when I saw that Amazon was the only vendor selling it for that much, and they had it as a “backorder.” Any Amazon dealers with a copy in hand to sell had it priced from $150 to $644! All very abstract, of course, but it did light a fire under me to no longer wait for this puppy! A quick trip to revealed that this title was actually selling for about $20, but Cherry Red had it stricken from their roster after seven years, so I bought quickly.

stephen duffy - kissme1985UK12AThis was the debut album from Duffy and it managed to make me a lifelong fan, with a collection to match. The album itself was of three minds, and having followed the Duffy saga through the many years and labels later, he managed to tip his hand on the path his future would take admirably well here. Of course, “Kiss Me” was the first track I heard, in its 1985 version. Even then, it remained a pitch perfect piece of synthpop, with interjections of AON Fairlight CMI® courtesy of J.J. Jeczalik. The chord progression of this tune remains like a cascading waterfall of pleasure, even after 31 years.

stephen duffy - shemakesmequiverUK12ADuffy’s debut single for Virgin/Ten Records came next. “She Makes Me Quiver”  was  a bit more rooted in the deprecated synthpop of the day, unlike “Kiss Me,” which had been written [and recorded] several years earlier for WEA/Sire. Lots of funky slap bass abounded here, courtesy of Guy Pratt, fresh off of the third Icehouse album. It was more than competent dance pop of its time, but any of the four songs from this album that fit this general sonic mold, have help up less well than the other material. Still, this song was head and shoulders above the likes of “A Masterpiece” or “Believe In Me” due to the exceptionally witty lyrics from Mr. Duffy’s pen on display here.

“The soft suede of her boots,
It makes you a neurotic,
Your Maxfield Parrish suits,
Is style like a narcotic?
But if I can’t de debonair,
I’ll just be gaunt and gothic,
Can we make a pair?
Yes that would be exotic” – “She Makes Me Quiver”

“But Is It Art?” proffered a more delicate [and effete] pizzacato synthpop that played as far more sophisticated than the first three songs and finally, the true aim of Mr. Duffy was first telegraphed here, in spite of the synthesizers and drum machines on display. This material and arrangement was far more winning than even the fine pop earlier on display as it telegraphed more of Duffy’s soul than the other more perfunctory songs preceding this one.

stephen duffy - extendedplayUK2x10AThe next track was the radical remix of “Wednesday Jones [Dixie]” that replaced the original, more spartan take of “Wednesday Jones” which appeared on the 1985 CD. That tune was simply an acoustic piano ballad played and produced by Booker T. Jones. The “Dixie” version appeared initially on the 1986 “Extended Play” EP and it now sits on the album proper. Duffy himself produced this version, along with Bimbo Acocks Dixieland Jazz Band [with Dave Mattacks on drums] fleshing out the brief  two minute song into a veritable four minute opus. It opened with a creamy sax that was just this side of soporific but the tune quickly gelled into something more substantial. Had there ever been a 1985 song so out of step with the prevailing ethos of that deadening time in music as this one? With this song, in any form, it gave a strong indication of the future that lay ahead of the reluctant synth popper.

Next: …Fondant Memories

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Record Review: Stephen Duffy – The Ups + Downs DLX RM

  1. Tim says:

    I went backwards in his discography.having found the first three Lilac Times cds on closeout at a Rose Records that was going under I think that I paid maybe $15 for the three. I was unaware of nebulous connections to Duran Duran or the Tin Tin material. I was listening to a lot of David Sylvian, Nick Drake and Brian Eno at the time and the three albums wedged nicely in there. I often talk in your comments about 80’s music that I found in the 90’s having more listening longevity that outfits that I liked in the 80′ and the Lilac Time vs Duran Duran is a great example.

    Years later I found the Kiss Me 12” in a budget bin however I wasn’t too fond of it. Do you have any lore on how he went from pop heavy Tin Tin to folky Lilac Time?


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – He was a folkie all along. He made synthpop to get signed. Pure capitulation. He had left the Duran Duran lineup to be “the next Nick Drake.” This album already shows his true hand with half of it of its era and the other half being much more timeless material.

      I followed him closely from this album onward through his many different stylistic twists and turns. I was lucky enough to have a UK dealer who was able to set me up with the first (unremixed) Lilac Time 12″/CD that the band put out by themselves. What a wonderful album and a sterling antidote to the horrifying late 80s UK pop scene.


  2. Tim says:

    The first two are exceptional, I am also fond of ”Looking For A Day In The Night.”


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