[…continued from last post]
A larger contrast between the introspective and somber cut “The Postcard” and the following “Seventeen” could not be more profound. This was originally slated as the pre-release single when Indolent was going to release the album; before the whole deal was spiked. When Cooking Vinyl picked up the option the next year, they also led with this song as the single. I can see why as it’s a confection of popcraft so irresistible that it would have surely been a top ten song had the fallen world not been in steep decline by 1998. The one note rhythmic piano hook was just the start of it, but even Duffy’s vocal was filtered on the verses for Brechtian distancing effect indicating sheer pop music was happening. It bears mentioning that this one was produced by Duffy without the aid of co-producer Stephen Street. He obviously knew how to work “the single” when push came to shove. The biographical vignette of his earliest days is bittersweet nostalgia over losing the girl due to his being an “empty headed libertine.” The simple chorus was all smiling/crying [repeat three times] with Duffy’s vocal ultimately extolling her beauty as he metaphorically rolls his eyes on how he threw it all away like an idiot.
The mournful, cello-led “Autopsy” opened with a powerful couplet of cold-eyed self-assessment that gave himself a dressing down that only he could deliver.
“I’m not very bright
but I know right from wrong
And I’ve not been right
for I don’t know how long” – “Autopsy”
Things went downhill from there as the self-loathing fairly flowed from his pen. Next came a strange outlier to a road not travelled on the Duffy path. “She Belongs To All,” was a breezy, near Latin Samba that leaned heavily on the strings and especially the late 60s flute of Dave Heath that ultimately took the spotlight. One can almost smell the Ipanema surf here. I would like to hear more in this vein from Duffy. With chanson laying in wait in the periphery for much of his oeuvre it makes a kind of sense that he would find himself alight on that very 1968 sound that was adjacent to the Nick Drake sound he fancied.
I have to admit, when I first learned about this album and saw it had a song entitled “One Day One of these F**** Will Change Your Life,” I was almost in awe. The seed of eternal wisdom, wrapped in vulgarity seemed to be a near genius move. The reality was such that it more than lived up to the promise inherent in such a loaded title. The Duke String Quartet figured here, as they did on several tracks already, and the heavy scent of Beatleism via the song’s rhythms and strings pointed the way back to “I Am A Walrus,” though Duffy’s label at the time were hoping for a more “trip-hop” mix! That notion alone showed that the cancellation of this album on Indolent/BMG [Duffy got the word as he was making a video for “Seventeen] was pretty much a foregone conclusion. The song was more than just a word of wisdom to another soul as Duffy managed to cast shade on the music industry and even a “tinsel god” like himself in the process as well.
Duffy had submitted the album to his label and they [in classic tin-ears mode] “didn’t hear a single”so Duffy decamped to some sessions with Andy Partridge who had previously produced half of The Lilac Time’s third album [but strangely enough, none of its singles]. So the first track that resulted was the sumptuous pop confection that was “You Are.” The simple and upbeat tempo belies a song that was touched with sophisticated gestures and filigree throughout it’s nearly five minute running time, though it feels more like three.
The tone was slightly more glib and less confessional than most of “I Love My Friends,” so one can sense that Duffy was tossing a bit of a softball here, but only in the best possible way. This may stick out on the original album of mostly melancholy songs, but this was clearly a world class pop single given every ounce of loving care and polish to get it out of the starting gate of pop. The delicately ascending glockenspiel figure on the later choruses simply slays me. Alas, it fell on deaf ears as the second single in the UK [the first in Canada, for what it’s worth]. That such pop perfection would be any less than world-straddling is a mystery to me.
The second Partridge cut was appended as the last track on this DLX RM. “What If I Fell In Love With You” was quirkier than “You Are,” and more in line with the sort of vibe that Andy had brought to the tracks he’d produced earlier with Duffy/The Lilac Time. Though I couldn’t fail to notice that the song crossed the psychedelic line in the sand to enter into Stratosfearic territory with its extended coda. Ultimately, I’m happy that these two tracks were retained on this version of the album. If I had to pick the Duffy song for a desert island from the 90s, it would be “You Are.”
Next: …Waiter, There’s Another Album In My Album!