Release Date: Jul 1, 2013
Record label: Divine Comedy Records
I’m sure I said this is another review recently, but the best albums are great in context. Straight Outta Compton for example probably wouldn’t be considered so important without the background of racial tension from which it was born; Rumours is perfect because of the tensions and tortured breakups within the band during recording rather than in spite of them. For clarity’s sake, I’ll take this moment to assure readers that I’m absolutely NOT saying that Sticky Wickets is in the same league as Straight Outta Compton or Rumours.
The self-styled "world's greatest cricket pop combo", the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon and Pugwash's Thomas Walsh, have again donned their striped blazers and straw boaters for a second over of chortlesome songs about the game. Perhaps even more than on their debut, cricketing metaphors and references abound: sticky wickets, stumps and (ahem) dropped balls. However, the jollity of their wit and quality of their songs means they're still not sounding forced or laboured.
It is, of course, amazing that Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy has formed a band named after an obscure cricket rule. It’s even more amazing that both their self-titled 2009 album and this, the follow-up, are actually about cricket. Take ‘The Umpire’, which ruminates on technology threatening the livelihood of cricket umpires. Or ‘Third Man’ (featuring Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry bloody Potter), on which Hannon and his bandmate Thomas Walsh giggle about how luxurious it is to while away an afternoon in the most pointless fielding position of all.
Despite its equally important cultural role in Australia, India and elsewhere, there are still few activities as quintessentially English as cricket. It’s ironic then that despite the valiant earlier efforts of 10CC, Roy Harper and others from the birthplace of the sport, it is two men hailing from across the Irish Sea who have been most successful in capturing its unique idiosyncrasies in song. Released in 2009, the eponymous debut from The Duckworth Lewis Method (a means of determining the result of a rain interrupted one day match that has been met with universal bemusement) was the brainchild of The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and his fellow Irish eccentric Thomas Walsh of Pugwash.
Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh's second outing as cricket-mad duo the Duckworth Lewis Method sees them broaden their palette slightly after 2009's self-titled debut. The opener and title track is a euphemistic wig-out while ELO and 1970s pop and rock are reference points throughout, and the formula-quoting Line and Length is funky electro with a nod to M's Pop Muzik, David Bowie's Fashion and the productions of Trevor Horn and Nile Rodgers. Daniel Radcliffe delivers the winning couplet "My thoughts have been diluted like a two-and-six novella/ Am I in a field in England or in the dark streets of Vienna?" on Third Man which quotes Anton Karas's Harry Lime Theme while other guest speakers include Henry Blofeld (very good on the banker-baiting It's Just Not Cricket), David Lloyd and uber-luvvie Stephen Fry.
On paper, a band and album created around the concept of cricket has the sound of something rather niche, hardly universal, and perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek. Clearly their love of the game was very genuine but the greatest thing about The Duckworth Lewis Method was its ability to truly strike a chord beyond the boundary of the cricket field with brilliantly crafted, clever pop songs that were accessible to anyone whether or not they knew their LBW from a googly. This applies even more on the band's second inning, Sticky Wickets.
Thomas Walsh and Neil Hannon’s second innings as The Duckworth Lewis Method doesn’t waste time finding form after four years away. The openers – the title track and ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ – both elicit big grins, recalling the verve and wit of their eponymous debut. The openers – title track ‘Sticky Wickets’ and ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ – both elicit big grins, recalling the verve and wit of their eponymous debut.