[…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!
That comment that his label wanted a more trip hop mix circa 1998 is amazing,
I am pretty sure that trip hop as a genre was quite dead by then and the label generally resurrected for any new Massive Attack album, even if Mezzanine (1998) isn’t very trip hop and 1994’s Protection was complemented with a Mad Professor dub mix album. I think even later Tricky releases were getting away from the Trip Hop label. Massive Attack’s first (and I think only) signing to their Melankolic label Alpha released their sublime Comefromheaven in 1997 and I honestly don’t remember the genre bandied about for that one when it came out but I think that Trip Hop was used mostly in reference to the progenitors of the label and not the act itself, I know Colin Dingley has said outright on Facebook that he doesn’t consider Alpha to be Trip Hop.
Trip Hop was pretty much Massive Attack’s Blue Lines and the early work of Portishead. There were hangers on like Earthling that made the pages of NME or Select but as a genre I don’t think it had a real long life span. Mono’s song Life in Mono has been called Trip Hop but i don’t see or hear it and Morecheeba, while I like bunches of their work, is more like TrIKEA Hop.
Tim – That was perhaps more than I ever imagined about trip hop! I only have the first two Portishead albums and maybe Gary Numan’s “Sacrifice” which gets called “trip hop influenced.” Wasn’t “Earthling” “jungle?” (Whatever that was…) This is all so out of my comfort zone!
I generally like the ”genre” but you know, I’ve read pieces by people who claim that some of these monikers are merely creations of the UK music press and to be absolutely honest I think that the trip hop moniker could be exhibit a or b for the prosecution in that case.
Tricky is a great case, he was an alumni from the first Massive Attack album. His first solo album, no way in hell I’d call that trip hop, I’m not saying it’s good or bad but I think it was labeled TH merely due to his history with Massive Attack. Then there’s his Nearly God album which, again, not Trip Hop and (in my opinion) the best thing he’s done. A lot of this stuff – trip hop, jungle, drum and bass – I just call it electronica.
Um, back to Duffy. I’ve actually rationed the unowned product by him and save buying it for a rainy day. Don’t have this new one, you know where I sit on this spectrum. i did recently acquire Because We Love You, mostly for the attributed Lilac Time songs….um, which I am having a real tough time placing in their chronology. They sound more poppy than folky.
Also snagged “No Sad Songs” which is a nice slow burner. More ambient than folky I think, doesn’t quite chug along as much as say “Looking for a Day in the Night” but I found a lot to like within on the first listen.
Tim – I still need “No Sad Songs!” It hurts me that I have trouble staying current on my favorites. But then again, I have so many favorites!
Living in Bristol I can’t help but comment:)
Monk I’m sure you would appreciate Portishead’s live album and their other studio album.
If you’ve not heard Mezzanine run to a record shop asap!
SimonH – Nope. I’ve not heard “Mezzanine.” It’s true. I never see it in the used bins over here.
Saw them do a Mezzanine album show in March, on the runway of an old airfield. What made it extra different was that they played covers of songs sampled on the album, mainly post punk and including Ultravox!
I really like Beth Gibson’s recent take on Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony, that and Rustin’ Man do more for me than Portishead.
Mezzanine is worthy of the suggestion, the first three Massive Attack albums are all really something special in their own ways, for repeat listenability I keep circling back to Protection.