Scary, but strangely compelling.
Marmaduke Duke - The Magnificent Duke
Right, after a lot of soul searching I've decided to let you read the press release in it's entirety, with my feeble comments (in italics) added alongside. This is because I've found myself at a total loss when it comes to my attempts at describing this lp. I've listened to it a great deal over the last few days without really being able to form any opinions on it, apart from the obvious one of it being completely bonkers. It's just bonkers. Oh, and very intense. I'm obsessed by it, but not in a good way. Rather, this album is the musical personification of Poppa Lazaru, off the TV series The League of Gentlemen (the one who steals people's wives). I'm sure you get the picture; scary, but strangely compelling.
Here goes pop pickers...
The Story of the Duke
All stories begin with a "Once upon a time..." and this one is no exception. Once upon a time, Jorge Stiberto moved to Glasgow from Portugal. A wise head on young shoulders he had no previous musical experience but did have a masterplan to record a trilogy of albums based around a series of novels written by his parents: The Magnificent Duke, Duke Pandemonium and The Death of the Duke.
RJF: And my goodness, does Jorge lay his intentions down on the opening track, "The Red and the Number"; a psychotic howl of annoyance, the arrangements shifting stylistically in a way very reminiscent of the Soft Boys' "Can of Bees", except the guitaring is one hell of a lot more, erm heavy... One other thing to note this early on, is that all the track titles are based round the words "and" thus you have the maudlin, semi acoustic "An Egyptian and an Imposter" rubbing shoulders with the monolithic "Fridge and the Fromage", not forgetting "Village and Minotaur" or "Blunder and Haggis"...
Anyway, back to the press release.
A Musical Triptych
You could say that. Jorge's parents were both professors of parapsychology and based the trilogy's main character f the Duke on a number of people they had encountered over the years in their medical studies. The three novellas concern the Duke's slow descent into a madness, a deterioration that takes him beyond the realms of everyday concepts and though processes and into the world of the untapped subconscious.
The Magnificent Duke charts this initial slip from reality into sur-reality and the discovery of three previously unknown sides of his personality to contend with. Like a textbook schizophrenic, names were applied to these conflicting personalities. Each personality exists within its own self-contained world and has its own self contained soundtrack. For the purposes of rock n roll simplification these can be identified as three separate entities: "When the world explodes", "When the world implodes" and "When the world corrodes".............
RJF: The Expodes, Implodes, Corrodes message can be categorised musically thus. Yes, despite the press release's claim to the contrary, I can form an impression musically. I have to, as I'm bloody reviewing it.That impression is... yes, you guessed it; noise, screaming and heavy guitars, contrasted with Caliban-esque tracks that are slow and monoglot in their expression; (oh shit I'm sounding like the press release). You do get the feeling that a great play is being made of the concept, which sometimes pushes the music into worthy territory. When it escapes it's 'serious music needs heavy guitar riffs' shackles, as evinced on tracks such as "An Imposter and a Magician" or "Paul and Alexander" its really very affecting stuff. It has potential to be Amon Duul 2's "Yeti" (I said potential mind, so don't write in and complain).
The Duke is Born!
Brian Jessop was a musical prodigy but could never find anyone with the will or guts to make the kind of albums he wanted to – or, indeed, a label willing to release them – and had subsequently joined and left a number of bands along the way; a perfect foil for Jorge then. The pair met at a party on New Year's Eve 2000 and found a shared ambition to make music that goes beyond the tired old structures of rock and roll. Verse-chorus-verse... big album opener ...boring fillers buried in the middle... no thanks.
In winter 2003 Jorge set about translating this lofty physiological concept to music with Brian on an eight-track studio in a cow shed, on a Scottish farm. Additional musical input came from local musicians Mary Whistler and David Davidson.
RJF: Brian Jessop is indeed prodigious. Long may he continue.
Twisted minds for twisted times...
The plan was to make music that pisses on the traditional forms. Fittingly "The Magnificent Duke" takes the idea of concept albums and stretches it into the strange and wonderful new dimensions without ever being hippy-druggy-mystical indulgence; in fact its pared–down approach and galvanised punk energy is the very antithesis of the indulgence, out of touch, Arthurian-obsessed progressive rockers of the 70s. (RJF: So why oh why is your artwork bloody covered in images of knights in armour then?) Already described by Kerrang! As "a riddle dunked in glitter, a teaser absorbed in trauma", the ambition behind this on-going project is truly staggering, a journey through the twisted minds of a few individuals who have been able to translate ideas written down in another country some years earlier only with the aid of a few guitars. (RJF: Why are you twisted? I bet you are not twisted at all, but nice hard working musicians. Despite the attemptsby the band to make 'music that pisses on all other forms', why does the press release become a standard "this album is better than any other album" press release? ArGHHH! Its a shame cos tracks like "Coast and Guard" are interesting pieces of music, but it's nowt new lads. I've already quoted Amon Duul 2 and the Soft Boys as references, I could go on.)
We won't be so crass as to use the words "genius" or "classic" – they're long since redundant terms in the modern pop lexicon, over used and worthless. Nor shall we use such regimented terms as "band" or "album". RJF: You're telling everyone what words are redundant? Can I never use the word genius again? Not even for Mozart? Silly, silly.
This, quite simply, is music.
Only in twenty years time will its true power become apparent.
So there you are then.Yes, it is music. Good, but in parts, like the curate's egg. Not genius, not a classic, but interesting. (Bet they wanted me to call it genius in this review though).
Words: Richard Foster (with thanks to the press release)