Sticky Wickets... Return of the MCC (it is...)
Review: The Duckworth Lewis Method – Sticky Wickets
Published on July 2nd, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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The Duckworth Lewis Method’s self-titled first album was such a favourite that it wound up inadvertently giving birth to Rocksucker with this, our maiden interview; that’s a lot for Sticky Wickets to live up to, and no mistake.
Sticky Wickets sounds bigger and breezier than its illustrious predecessor, with more orchestration and even more ELO-isms. Less synths, too, and the cartooniness (it’s a word now) has been dialled down a tad in favour of a more organic sound.
What remains consistent is a) the black-belt-level songwriting from constituent duo Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) and Thomas Walsh (Pugwash), and b) the irrelevance of being a cricket fan to enjoyment of the content.
Yes, sorry; the uninitiated should know that The Duckworth Lewis Method deal in ‘cricket pop’, which as you should be able to glean constitutes cricket-themed pop songs.
That may sound prohibitive but this writer can assure you, as someone who’s never got round to being immersed in “the gentleman’s game” (goodness, that sounds euphemistic), the great melodies and ever-present sense of playfulness dictate that a specialist knowledge is not a prerequisite.
In saying that, a bit of cricket knowledge will of course go a long way in terms of reaping rewards here, so it has to be said that the little that Rocksucker does know is undoubtedly a contributory factor to our falling head over heels in love with a second Duckworth Lewis Method album.
Let’s start with the set-opening title track, a ’70s Who-style rocker showcasing falsetto singing that could be either or both of them (our money’s on Walsh, though); so different an introduction is it to “The Coin Toss” that it strikes as an instant assurance that they’re not out to simply recreate former glories.
Frankly, that was a worry, especially in the wake of the diminished return that is the new Neon Neon record, but then any such notion should have been obliterated by the utterly marvellous lead-in single “It’s Just Not Cricket”.
Before then we get the Hannon-led “Boom Boom Afridi”, an ode to Pakistan bowler Shahid Afridi. Its skipping piano motif harks rhythmically back to “Going Downhill Fast” from The Divine Comedy’s classic 1994 album Promenade, and the conversion of the titular refrain into ‘call and response’, achieved simply by slipping in the prefix “everybody say…”, is inspired…
…as is the flourish of strings amidst lush breakdown section. Oh, and the tabla/tambura section. Spewing great ideas, these chaps.
Onto “It’s Just Not Cricket”, which presumably addresses doping with “You’ve got a nerve to dedicate your victory to God / When all you’ve done is medicate your way back to the top”.
It doesn’t come across as a stern slap of the wrists, though. Far from it: the disapproval is expressed by comedic ‘BBC/received pronunciation’ utterances of “Well, one thing it certainly isn’t is cricket” and “You simply can’t get away with that! It’s just not cricket”.
Throw in a killer key change at the end of the chorus, one reconcilable with both Hannon and Walsh as songwriters, and the deal is sealed. (The deal being that you have an absolute f***ton load of fun, which shouldn’t prove a struggle with such stellar
MCCs MCs at the helm.)
“The Umpire” is a Hannon-led lament about the importance of umpires (that’s cricket referees, dawg) deteriorating in the face of advances in video technology. As such, it consummately strikes the balance between ‘suitably mournful’ and ‘tongue-in-cheek’ that Hannon perfected on the last Divine Comedy album Bang Goes the Knighthood, even throwing in some early ’70s Beach Boys backing vocals on the chorus for good – nay, great – measure.
Walsh takes centre stage for the pure ELO-iness of “Third Man”, featuring a lovely string arrangement and Daniel Radcliffe on spoken word duty, before arguably stealing the show on the spellbinding “Out in the Middle”.
Sounding a bit like a good version of “Miss Sarajevo”, “Out in the Middle” finds Walsh throwing down such verse-situated gauntlets as “You could have an Oxbridge PHD / You could have a box at the MCC / But have you got what it takes to be out in the middle?” before deferring to Hannon for a fantastically twisting and turning chorus.
“Out in the Middle” floats off into blissful psych-lite a little like “Mason on the Boundary” did on the first album; the two even share a cascading, Beatles-y vocable during the fade-out, so perhaps the DLM noticed this too.
Hannon uses the oddball electro-funk of “Line and Length” to explain the difference between those two key elements of bowling – this track proceeds to take in a brief, Discovery-era Daft Punk synth flutter, albeit one invested with a classical sort of drama – and the frivolity is ramped up still further by the merry group singalong of “The Laughing Cavaliers” (“Do we have a dark side? / Do we hell!”).
“The Laughing Cavaliers” is the kind of whimsical music hall that Ray Davies used to get criticised for tossing in amongst his seemingly weightier efforts, even though they demonstrated at least as much artistry and sophistication.
Think “She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina” or “All of My Friends Were There”, both of which Rocksucker adores and we don’t care who knows it.
Stephen Fry, sounding not entirely like Stephen Fry, takes to “Judd’s Paradox” to deliver such wonderful lines as “Old is the game that shares its name with the insect at its feet”), this portentous introduction giving way to something altogether dreamier and with a distinctly Hannon-esque lilt to the songwriting, despite the prominence of Walsh’s voice.
“Mystery Man” begins all ‘bouncy good-time swing’, apparently concerning itself lyrically with trying to guess how the bowler will deliver the ball; it gives way to huffing, chant-accompanied melodrama with blaring, military string and brass, then reverts seamlessly back into the kind of jollity that sees a list of imaginary scores read out by Matt Berry.
Proceedings are brought to a satisfyingly daft close by “Nudging and Nurdling”, in which a procession of guest speakers announce the titular participles as if it was one of those ‘learn a language’ tapes, or even a strange cousin of Lemon Jelly’s “Rambling Man”. It’s quite hilarious and unfurls into more golden, sunnily disposed pop, so as to neatly underline what’s gone before it.
Incidentally, nurdling is “to score runs by gently nudging the ball into vacant areas of the field”. If we were sat at a table with you, dear reader, we would gently nudge a copy of Sticky Wickets in your direction and implore you, if you haven’t already done so, to explore the superb back catalogues racked up by The Divine Comedy and Pugwash respectively.
Hats, pads and whites off, chaps; you’ve done it again.
Sticky Wickets is out now on Divine Comedy Records.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!