Smiley. That’s the one, upsettingly impotent word that comes to mind whenever I consider “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. It’s there, in the cross between frothy folk and bluesy Americana, in Simone Felice’s sun-soaked vocal chords, and most of all in his knack for rather silly poetics (more of which later). Incidentally, one piece of promo material I received with The Duke and the King’s debut declared these “twelve songs for summer”. Summer. Sunny. Happy. Smiley. Those words again…
It’s all very American really. Two folky, indie bachelors take their inoffensive pop tunes to Woodstock (yes, Woodstock) in a misguided attempt to craft a folky, indie gem… And presumably, under the equally misguided notion that such a plan is in some way unique. And yet, on paper, The Duke and the King seem quite promising. Felice’s voice, for instance, is genuinely beguiling, an American Cat Stevens in his “Teaser and the Firecat”-era prime. The overall mood of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is likewise a thing of rather gorgeous tranquillity, a meandering, forest-like refuge from the noise of modern life. The point remains: “Nothing Gold Can Stay” looks like a blinder. So what went wrong?
The songs. Unfortunately, it’s as simple as that. Niceness, pleasantness, childlike, eye-watering nostalgia may be here in spades, but they’re essentially just varnish. The songs themselves don’t hold up under casual inspection, let alone eager scrutiny. After three listens, the only hummable tunes this reviewer could hear were “If You Ever Get Famous” and perhaps “Summer Morning Rain”. The rest just refuses to allow you in, so awash is it with blandness and so-earnest-it-hurts boredom. Also, the less said about Felice’s, er, “foolproof” lyrics, the better: “You were the prettiest girl in town/ but your ma was a druggy and she kicked you around”. For the sake of politeness, it feels far nicer to tiptoe away and leave that as it is.
All of this is a pity, because for a fleeting moment “Nothing Gold Can Stay” hints at something more interesting. That moment is “Lose Myself”, a genuinely cinematic ditty, complete with radio white noise and uncharacteristic depth- ironic, considering it’s lyric is one line long. For two glorious minutes The Duke and The King threaten to become genuinely engaging, all pretence of calm folk coolness temporarily dropped. How annoying, then, that it’s so short.
Here’s the thing: I like happy music. I’m a huge Beach Boys fan, ditto their modern equivalents like Super Furry Animals. My favourite record of last year was a Montreal act called Miracle Fortress’s debut “Five Roses”—summery, aesthetic pop. The problem is, all of the above are wonderful and enduring songwriters. The Duke and the King, as of right now, are not. Dissappointing.