Duke Special – Oh Pioneer (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
THE Wooden Fingers Puppet Theatre Company, The Bank of Ideas, a banned Iranian children’s book about a fish, a pirate who wants to retire, a bar man who hears people’s stories whether he likes it or not, the human condition and late night conversations with friends on the roof of the ‘Oh Yeah’ building about your dreams are just a few of the ingredients to go into Oh Pioneer, the latest long-player from Duke Special.
And, as you would expect, it’s an endlessly inventive listen from Peter Wilson… lyrically inventive and often thought-provoking in the way it paints vivid pictures, as well as instrumentally adventurous.
There are quiet, very romantic moments mixed with more boisterous ones, where Wilson isn’t afraid to throw in Bohemian Rhapsody-style elements or shots of brass. But no matter what it’s doing, it commands your attention.
The tone is set nicely early on with the epic, astral Stargazers of the World Unite (A Love Song For Astronomers), a blissful piano-based offering that underlines Wilson’s ear for a snappy melody and a different style of song-writing. This isn’t an ordinary love-song.
This alternative lyrical take on things is again emphasised on another highlight, the former single Punch of a Friend, a look at a shambolic soul who is “better for the punch of a friend”. It’s nicely delivered, though, in a soft-pop style, making it one of the more commercially accessible offerings in the Duke Special repertoire.
Snakes In The Grass, meanwhile, is built around winding, snake-like flutes, cute beats and ear-pleasing melodies before suddenly hitting you with rock-opera theatrics at various points. It’s a wake-up call of a track that almost inevitably brings comparisons to Queen.
If that marks the sound of Duke Special at his most polarising, then his quieter moments should endear him just as equally. Condition is a subtle yet thought-provoking look at the human condition and its range of emotions (good and bad), while Nothing Shall Come Between Us offers the type of romanticism you might expect from a West End show given its often beautiful compositions. Likewise, Lost Chord, another favourite.
How I Learned To Love The Sun once more raises the tempo for another searing tale of the human spirit overcoming diversity, yet can’t resist tossing in the odd vaudeville-esque moment or flight of musical fancy. It’s what makes Wilson so distinct yet equally polarising.
If, like me, you have come to love his eccentricities as much as his ear for a pleasing melody and a striking song, then you’ll probably rate Oh Pioneer as highly as any album in his back catalogue to date.
Download picks: Stargazers of the World Unite (A Love Song For Astronomers), Punch of A Friend, Lost Chord, Condition, Always Been There