PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Duke Spirit: Neptune

For their second album, the Duke Spirit have developed into something much clearer and less derivative than their debut.

The Duke Spirit


Label: You Are Here
US Release Date: 2008-04-08
UK Release Date: 2008-02-04

The Duke Spirit are in danger of becoming the perennial also-rans of British indie. For a while now the beneficiaries of press that is positive but rarely rapturous, the fivesome are far from objectionable enough to inspire distaste, but insufficiently idiosyncratic to stir up much adoration. Their debut album, Cuts Across the Land, was solid enough, but bore an undeniable debt to the band's influences -- the likes of the Stones, PJ Harvey, and the Jesus and Mary Chain -- its critical reception toeing the line between highlighting this lineage and pawing over frontwoman Leila Moss, herself the recipient of so many Blondie comparisons she opted to dye her hair brown.

So there'll be those hoping that this follow-up release will be the Duke Spirit's timely coming-of-age, an album to dispel the hegemony of comparisons and likenesses in their press coverage and establish the band's persona as standalone and individualistic. In that respect, Neptune is a step in the right direction. It's clearer and more cohesive than its predecessor, coming across as focused rather than a slapdash collage of influences. In addition, it doesn't rely so solely on Moss's charms to make its mark, owing in part to a cleaner, more advanced instrumental section, as well a more finely tuned style-substance balance. They've still got a swagger, yes, but without -- or so it feels -- any condescending notions of epitomising cool.

But in truth the main reason Neptune pleases more than Cuts is simply that, in songwriting terms, the Duke Spirit have evolved into something more measured and mature than before. There's a little of their debut's rawness that's been sacrificed in the process, but with the end product sounding so much more considered, it's hard to feel that it wasn't a sacrifice worth making. Most of its offerings scratch an itch that their debut didn't reach. "You Really Wake Up the Love in Me" transcends its riff-rock origins to throw around vocal melodies with equal measures of vigour and precision, while, taking a mellower tack, "Wooden Heart" remembers to instil its bluesy sighing with a neat vocal-trumpet pairing. "My Sunken Treasure", for all its jangling echoes of '70s soul, is just a really good pop song. Even on "Into the Fold", perhaps the closest Neptune comes to continuing where Cuts left off, splashing as it does fuzzy My Bloody Valentine guitars over fairly routine garage-rock, there is a dynamic chorus line waiting to drive some opportune life into it.

Despite this, Neptune fails to scale the peaks you feel it potentially could. Though it does scratch that itch, there's too much time spent searching for the elusive spot before the satisfying exhalation; too much effort spent treading water rather than reaching the hooks and the heights the Duke Spirit elsewhere show themselves to be capable of. "The Step and the Walk" promises sass and soul, duly delivers both within forty seconds, then fails to build on these foundations, offering only a relatively meek chorus from thereon. Likewise, "Dog Roses", a smoky western ballad (one of several of Neptune's cuts to be audibly influenced by the Californian desert in which it was recorded), fails to produce anything good enough to accompany Olly Betts's percussive ellipses.

Neptune, then, fares better than its predecessor, both in terms of songwriting and in escaping the looming shadow of its ancestry. But while it's clear that the Duke Spirit have attempted to escape the latter -- and largely, have succeeded -- what isn't so apparent is that they aren't just resting on the laurels of Moss's persuasive hip-shake and wounded howl. There's a more defined sound about their sophomore than to their debut, but in opting to clear up the blurred focus and smooth the edges of Cuts, they also instilled in their music a thirst for hooks and melodies which they don't always provide. And that's not to say they're not capable of satiating this need, but if they are to truly make their mark on music, their third album had better be a little less languid.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.