It's been three and a half years since The Duke Spirit's exceptional second album 'Neptune' and six and a half since their début 'Cuts Across The Land'. With some bands this would indicate a struggle to come up with ideas. After the initial hype surrounding a new band – especially one with top 40 singles under their belt – there often follows a rushed second album, usually the result of record company pressure to strike while the iron's hot, to cash in on the initial flurry of publicity. This is the exact reason why so many artists careers are short, they don't have time to realise their potential and to make the records they want to make. They're spat out of the system if the subsequent releases fail to generate cash, which is the likely outcome of a half baked, hurried record.
Kudos then, to The Duke Spirit for sticking to their own plans rather than compromising their sound or the quality of their records. The time between albums has been well spent, the band have remained active, touring the UK and US and recording extra tracks for an American compilation album and for b-sides. Since last year, tracks from 'Bruiser' have been appearing online in various places. 'Everybody's Under Your Spell' was a free download single, followed by 'Procession', available for a limited time as a download from the Levi's website, 'Northbound' appeared on the 'Kusama EP', then 'Villain', also free, from Spin Magazine. The Duke Spirit have not been idle or struggling to come up with songs, they've spent long enough teasing us, now we get the finished article.
Opener 'Cherry Tree' thunders into action with the familiar thick, weighty production fans of the first two records have come to know and love, Liela Moss' rich tones repeating the refrain “I don't look back, why would you?” and suggesting they'd rather we didn't compare 'Bruiser' to past glories, but it's difficult not to. Despite the line-up reshuffle that followed 'Neptune' this is still unmistakeably a Duke Spirit album. The trademark fusion of blues, garage rock and soul has remained untouched. The lyrics are dark and ponderous, often lamenting unrequited love and missed opportunities. Songs such as 'Villain' and 'Bodies' suggest a trouble soul was behind their creation, in fact emotions are high and intense throughout. The piano led 'De Lux' being a particular highlight, it's one of the most beautiful ballads you'll hear all year. Single 'Everybody's Under Your Spell' is probably the album's key moment, distilling everything that's great about the band into three and a half glorious minutes.
So is 'Bruiser' a match for 'Neptune'? Well, not quite. Recent single 'Surrender' is The Duke Spirit by numbers, there is no great pop moment such as 'My Sunken Treasure' and overall this is a collection of songs rather than the complete, part concept album that preceded it, and it doesn't end with a raucous climax a la 'Neptune', instead drifting off into the ether with the pretty 'Homecoming'. If we take notice of the request not to look back and judge this in an objective manner, what we have is a superb record with a lush, full sound and some tremendous songwriting by a group who unarguably know what they're doing and exactly how they should sound. The Duke Spirit plough their own furrow, how and when they want to, ignoring current trends and outside pressure – something that's all too rare these days. Quite simply, they're one of the best bands we have. The next three years can't pass quickly enough.