Hot Press: Sticky Wickets Review
Olaf Tyaransen reviews the new Duckworth Lewis Method album "Sticky Wickets"
The Duckworth Lewis Method : Sticky Wickets
Triumphant second outing from cricket-tinged duo...
Four years ago, two of this island’s most talented pop stars – Pugwash frontman Thomas Walsh and The Divine Comedy’s dapper Neil Hannon - collaborated on what was probably one of the most unlikely concept albums in the history of Irish recorded music. Naming themselves after a mathematical formulation designed to determine the winner of a match interrupted by weather or other circumstances, The Duckworth Lewis Method described their eponymous debut – released days before the 2009 Ashes series began – as “a kaleidoscopic musical journey through the beautiful and rather silly world of cricket.” Which, indeed, it was.
Featuring guest cameo performances from comedians such as Phil Jupitus, Alexander Armstrong and Matt Berry, their poptastic album was critically acclaimed, sold in respectable quantities, and earned them a prestigious Ivor Novello nomination – though they ultimately lost out to Paulo Nutini. Soon afterwards, the duo disbanded and went back to their respective careers, stating that they’d possibly consider reforming in 20 years.
Needless to say, they’ve since revised their plans. According to a statement released by Walsh (who plays Duckworth to Hannon’s Lewis), “Lewis and myself felt it would be at least 20 years before the world would want another Duckworth Lewis Method album. But it rains a lot in Ireland so we revised our prediction of 20 years by using the Duckworth Lewis Method, and it turns out we only needed to wait four.”
So, given that Sticky Wickets has arrived a full 16 years prematurely, are they risking totally over-egging the pudding and spoiling the joke? The answer is no, mainly because it wasn’t all that much of a joke to begin with. The sport of kings might be a novel subject for an album, but that doesn’t make it a novelty album. Though having said that, ‘The Laughing Cavaliers’ wouldn’t be out of place on a Monty Python collection.
Despite the deliberate daftness of their approach (the cover features a famous press shot from the 1975 Ashes series when a male streaker ran onto the hallowed Lord’s turf and cheekily vaulted the stumps) both Hannon and Walsh are serious practitioners. What was great about their DLM debut was that you didn’t necessarily have to be a cricket fan to enjoy not just the hooks and melodies but the human insights of its finely-crafted pop songs. It’s much the same with this sophomore effort, which they recorded in Dublin earlier this year in Nick Seymour’s Exchequer Studios (the former Crowded House man also plays on the album).
Proceedings open with the title-track, which sounds like the Bee Gees singing over a prog rock backing. In dual falsetto, they sing: “Keep your cool, keep your powder dry/ Take a pull, but try not to get high/ Don’t get caught trying to hit the big shot/ Wait for it, wait for it, take it slow/ Wait for it, wait for it, let yourself go.” Even if you have no idea what they’re singing about, it’s a terrific song.
Musically it’s smooth and well-polished pop, often ‘60s-sounding, making much use of ivories, strings and brass (though on electro tracks like ‘Line And Length’ it sounds as if Brian Eno has gate-crashed the studio). Hannon and Walsh share vocal duties throughout, and it can sometimes be difficult to discern which one is actually singing. While their debut featured songs about Empire and Twenty20, Gatting and the ‘Ball of the Century’, and driving to Pakistan in a VW camper van to meet Javed Miandad, lyrical subjects this time out include the superiority of cricket to baseball and other stick sports (‘It’s Just Not Cricket’), the depression suffered by players who aren’t quite up to scratch (‘Third Man’), and a tribute to Pakistani cricketing superstar Shahid Afridi (‘Boom Boom Afridi’).
Melancholic and haunting, ‘The Umpire’ is written from the point of view of a disgruntled referee made redundant by technology: “Who would aspire to be an umpire and who would be a referee?/ We’re only here to be sneered at, just a relic of yesteryear/ There was a time when we were held high, but it’s not how it used to be/ They only let us stick around so they’ve someone to kick around.”
Once again, they’ve enlisted some celebrity helpers to add garnish to their cricket-pop. Legendary commentator Henry “Blowers” Blofeld appears on jaunty first-cut ‘It’s Just Not Cricket’. Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe adds some spoken words to ‘Third Man’, and Stephen Fry does a turn on the lush ‘Judd’s Paradox’. Given that the title is a pun on the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, it’s a shame they didn’t get fellow cricket-freak Mick Jagger to guest.
If you’re a fan of Pugwash and/or The Divine Comedy then you’ll find much to love here. If you happen to also be a cricket fan, well, this will probably be your all-out album of the century.
Hot Press - Olaf Tyaransen