Airstrip One: The Duckworth Lewis Method

A 2009 review of the debut Duckworth Lewis Method album from Airstrip One.


Method in the Madness

The Duckwork-Lewis Method is without doubt one of the most enjoyable albums you’ll hear this year. It’s witty, articulate, wistful and heartfelt in a way that will take you completely by surprise. This is so much more than a throwaway novelty record; it’s a rare labour of love that could make you roll over in hysterics one minute and bring a tear to your eye the next. Releasing an album of songs about a sport whose fans aren’t readily identifiable members of the pop aficionado demographic seems like a risk not many songwriters would be willing to take. But, boy does it pay off!

Like all good concept albums, the record opens with a concise scene-setter. ‘Coin Toss’ introduces the Duckworth-Lewis partnership as they exchange pleasantries to the sound of tweeting birds on a glorious summer’s day.

‘The Age of Revolution’ swings like an opening batsman on the first day of a test series, taking us on a whistle stop tour of the cricketing globe.

‘Gentlemen and Players’ delivers an astonishingly accurate account of the 19th century origins of the modern game. The level of detail in this song is simply staggering; there may not have been a top ten song about cricket since the 1980s, but it must be almost two hundred years since anyone has sung about Fuller Pilch and his top hat.

The infectious glam-rock stomp of ‘The Sweet Spot’ grooves like nobody’s business.

On ‘Jiggery Pokery’ Neil Hannon shows that he is capable of doing things with words and music that other songwriters can’t. This Noël Coward-inspired man-and-piano homage to ‘the greatest delivery of all time’, which metastasizes into a Baboon Chorus (courtesy of Matt Berry, Phil Jupitus et al.) has to be heard to be believed. The delivery itself lasts less than thirty seconds, yet Hannon manages to encapsulate the skill and significance of Warne’s bowling while still being extremely funny about it at the same time.

‘Mason on the Boundary’ is a track devoted to the isolation of a solitary figure, who leaves for Zanzibar. Walsh’s voice is wonderful; reminiscent of a young McCartney in his hey-day on ‘Penny Lane’. If the Beatles made an album about cricket they’d be doing well to come up with something half as good as this. Again the lyrical dexterity is simply amazing; an off-the-cuff reference to Voltaire’s Candide fits just perfectly – this could well be the best of all possible cricket albums. Matt Berry’s poignant monologue is delivered exquisitely (By the way, keep an ear out for his forthcoming Witchazel album.)

‘Rain Stops Play’ is a delightful instrumental interlude which conjures up visions of groundsmen scurrying round the crease to avoid falling raindrops.

Another Beatles-flavoured singalong, ‘Meeting Mr Miandad’ tells of the camaraderie of ‘Ducky’ and ‘Lew’ on a journey to fulfill a dream of taking a transcontinental road-trip to meet Pakistani batting legend Javed Miandad. The banjo reprise shows a kind of jollity which has all but disappeared from modern pop.

The gentle strains of ‘The Nightwatchman’ tenderly explores the solitude and hopeful longing felt by the last man standing waiting for the dawn to break. The strings on this track brood soulfully, intoning the falling dusk and impending close of play. This track avoids making any ostensible cricket references, but fans of James Anderson know the score.

‘Flatten the Hay’’s waltzing harpsichord takes us on a trip through the childhood holidays in exotic destinations such as “Arklow and Courtown”, and the heroes that meant nothing to the other kids. Walsh’s voice floats wistfully through time and paints a charming portrait of his love of the game.

‘Test Match Special’ rocks-out in praise of the liberating pleasure that only a day devoted to watching cricket can provide. For anyone who has managed to pull a sickie and spent an afternoon in front of a test match in their living room this song will conjure up cherished memories.

The album closer ‘The End of the Over’ written in 6/4 time (if I’m not mistaken; please correct me if I am), a time signature seemingly invented for a subtle nod to cricket scoring, and the number of balls in an over, the perfect end to an elegantly paced record.

The album in its entirety feels like a summer afternoon spent lazing on a lawn, both “Mason on the Boundary” and “Flatten the Hay” capture this mood perfectly. The Duckworth-Lewis Method is an outstanding achievement, accessible to people who know nothing about cricket and Wisden-buffs alike. Like lots of modern musical-comedy, the humor can disarm, with a view to saying something genuinely heartfelt;this isn’t just a belletristic piece of show-offery. Like a cracking knock at the Oval on a July afternoon, it’s great fun too!

Airstrip One - Unknown

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