To be fair to Cuts Across the Land I will say that when the band click, they can be thunderous.
At last! After a year of waiting, with only three Eps to sustain us, we at Incendiary are finally able to sate our considerable desire for the Dukes. An opening question which, of course, begs the question, was it worth the wait? Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. When this album is good, it is very, very good indeed. However there are moments when the pace becomes monotonous and things drag when they should crackle and snap.
The Duke Spirit boast a formidable sound, have a clear musical vision that they have taken time to define, and in Liela Moss have a singer with a genuine aura. They are, in fact, a proper band, an old fashioned band, a band who lug their equipment around. And I really like them.
All reflections on my part which, of course, make the disappointing moments on Cuts Across all the more painful to bear. The problem is the pace. It's as if the Dukes can't allow things to develop within songs, can't allow things to get too messy or out of hand, or too frail and brittle. Maybe they were content just to get the definitive version of their live repertoire down as concisely as possible. Whilst listening to the album you will, therefore, experience a precision-battering which can begin to pall if you're not in the mood. And, if this was their intention, they've missed a trick. Abandon is needed at times, and is needed specifically with tracks like Stubborn Stitches and You Were Born Inside My Heart, where Liela's vocal delivery badly needs a more cavalier, more imperious setting to show off the obvious emotional power that's there, just waiting to burst out.
The quieter moments, such as the magnificent debut single, Darling You're Mean, present the listener a badly needed aural space to ponder and reflect. I wish they'd tap into this obvious resource more. In some ways, the frail, delicate slow burner is their trump card. As it is they don't allow their obvious diversity to shine through, a mistake in my eyes, because the Dukes have it in their grasp to be genuinely different, genuinely able to express and define a whole range of emotions and feelings.
To be fair to Cuts Across the Land I will say that when the band click, they can be thunderous. The build up of the album's last few tracks, is all you want from the band. Lion Rip scythes its way through any obstacle, like some crazed peasant cutting down a field full of corn. Lovetones starts off as a plaintive, circular riff, lazily riding the summer thermals, like a buzzard in the summer sky. The song builds up in power and intent, becoming a majestic thunderous rock track. You get an inkling of the Duke Spirit at their imperious best here. A slightly re-worked, looser version of Red Weather is tremendous, the little whoop Miss Moss gives near the end is a sure indication that she feels the band have nailed this track; and she's right. It has a true swagger, a truly Velvets groove. This is how they should sound! Love is an Unfamiliar Name is another belter; the song adopts the tom-tom beat that Jaki Liebezeit used to give Can. The arrangements at times are like something off Monster Movies, all spacey groves offset by metallic and insistent guitar runs, that is until Liela Moss's incantations take the track into much more emotive territories. An intake of breath and its all gone.
So, to sum up?
I feel quite bad reading this review back, actually. I've given a cautious thumbs up to a band that I admire, respect and believe in. I wanted to rave about it but couldn't. Let me say this as a palliative. If any other new band would have made this LP, I would have said it was a very, very good album and praised it highly. As it is (and as it's the Duke Spirit we are talking about here) I'd like them to go back into the studio and re-do it, with the express instruction that they should reveal their true talent and potential in a way more obvious to us mortals. Nearly, but not quite.
Words : Richard Foster