After ironically recording their last album, the nautically themed Neptune, in the desert, UK indie-rockers The Duke Spirit must have some sleight of hand (or tongue) in mind with its follow-up, Bruiser.
Neptune was a lush yet rocking monument that introduced the jangly, soulful, and hypnotically mesmerizing “The Step and the Walk,” which hands down was 2008’s single of year. The pressure is on the long-awaited follow-up to…follow up. While technically the band’s third album, the sophomoric cloud nevertheless hovers menacingly over Bruiser.
Openers “Procession” and “Cherry Tree” are far from the one-two punch this band needs to reinvigorate its audience after a three-year hiatus. Both songs lumber along, threatening to break out, but fade before they do. Unsatisfactorily and purgatorially, the anticipated hook or riff never materializes, leaving the listener churning in a state of stasis.
Relief (albeit fleeting) is in sight, however, in the form of “Villain,” which is where the Spirit gear down into minstrel mode and showcase their deftness with ballads. The production values on the slower tracks seem higher, as if producer Andrew Scheps has a best-below-bpm rate.
Other slower tracks—and the album is brimming with them—run the spectrum: “Bodies” is wonderfully hypnotic with singer Liela Moss’s cooing, while “Northbound” and “Homecoming” are both overly contrived in their attempts to put the power back into power ballad, and both unabashedly scream for an accompanying montage.
Along with Moss’s sheer vitality, drummer Olly “The Kid” Betts is the band’s biggest asset, a deftly captivating and driving force capable of sonic alchemy, yet he is painfully underused and mixed far too low.
The band only hit their stride here late with the gyrating rocker “Everybody’s Under Your Spell,” which is The Duke Spirit at their best: ballsy, sweaty, and untethered. The song rips along at a torrid pace before skilfully bringing things down to a rim shot and a bongo tap. It’s definitely the lonely signature dish on a middling menu.
Sadly, “Everybody’s Under Your Spell” is the only track that lives up to the Bruiser title. While that might be partially redemptive, it’s not the kind of delicious irony, or follow-up, anticipated after Neptune.
–Chris “Gutter” Rose