Strangelove were the dark musical underbelly of the Britpop years who, after spending the 90s touring with the likes of Suede and the Manic Street Preachers, imploded in 1998. After the band split, Patrick Duff, their unsettlingly intense frontman, spent several years out of the spotlight before making a tentative return to the stage a couple of years ago. He’s spent the time since then thinking, writing, playing the odd solo gig and generally recovering equilibrium… and recording his debut solo album.
What does it sound like? Often, though not always, quite a lot like Strangelove. Duff’s voice is (as one might expect…) the same – the same individual twang, the same natural emotiveness, the same habit of accenting that innate expressiveness with stylistic flourishes of emphasis. The heavier songs, the ones that rock, warp and waver at the edges with the same unnatural howls of guitar effects. The lyrics have the same uneasy hallucinogenic clarity.
But Duff also deviates from the template within which he wrote songs for Strangelove. There’re acoustic numbers, there’s a harmonica – and, outside of the obvious technical differences, there’s a slight sandpapering of the rough edges. Not a toning down, not exactly, the sound is still visceral and emotive, but there’s a sense that the method of delivery has been harnessed and brought under control. The music doesn’t just pour out any more – it feels written, not channelled.
Does it work? Not always. Some of the songs on here – mainly, it must be said, the acoustic ones – limp aimlessly along and beg for the mercy killing of the Forward Skip button. There’s also the odd moment which instils in the listener a burning desire to take Mr Duff aside and explain that a rhyming dictionary does not an clever lyric sheet make (one in particular, Song To America, brings to mind that scene from the film Mystery Men, which no one’s ever seen, in which one of the wanna-be Superheroes dismisses his mentors sage advice as being nothing but a glib subject/object sentence-reversal formula). There’re tricks tried which don’t quite come off, there’re moments which just feel ritualistic and forced.
So, _Luxury Problems is a flawed album. But it’s also an album which reminds you that, when he’s on form, Patrick Duff is an absolutely bloody brilliant songwriter. There’re moments which are genuinely breathstealing, and there’re also moments which don’t explode in the mind in quite the same way but which are nonetheless innovative and challenging and to which I’ll doubtless be listening in the future. Having put this album on with some trepidation, I’m incredibly relieved and extremely happy to find that it’s not a falling-back-on-old-trades last resort of an album. Instead, history aside, it’s an inventive and powerful slice of flawed yet beautiful rock’n’roll. If more people discover Strangelove through it, that’d be nice – but it’d be quite enough if people just discovered Patrick Duff.