Marmaduke Dando - Heathcliffian Surly
Dominic Valvona 04/12/2010
Marmaduke Dando is a tortured soul: his atavistic disposition, seeming ill at ease with the modern world. A self-appointed despairing and melancholic romantic, Dando is unceremoniously catapulted from rubbing shoulders with the likes of Byron, Keats and Dostoevsky in the garret and study room's of a hazy bygone age, to the harsh realities of a cold dystopian envisioned Metropolis. If further prove of his separation from our technological fetishist society was even needed, a sardonic passage bemoaning about de-humanisation in the face of modernity and progress by the revered and controversial novelist D.H Lawrence, is included as a footnote inside the albums cover.
Musically, our troubled troubadour wistfully croons over a bare and deftly layered accompaniment of mournful piano, searing melodic violins, shuffling drums, and pronounced pining guitars, all swaying between a soundtrack of sorrowful ballads, Weimar epoch cabaret, and Balkan gypsy woe.
Dando's saddened and stirring swooning vocals share all the more restrained traits of Scott Walker, Jacques Brel, Lloyd Cole and Billy Mckenzie, on this disconsolate and doleful journey. Walker-esque allusions begin with Heathcliffian Surly's opening rue, and tribute of a kind, to the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa, on the track of the same name: picked I assume for its revolutionary bent and historical romanticism - the city was famous for the tragic 1905 workers uprisings, which were depicted in Sergi Eisenstein's 'Battleship Potemkin'. Our new-age Shelly pens an ode to a place he's only ever read about and imagined; using its exoticism and mysterious aura to express sentiments to his intended muse.
The reclusive Walker returns, with his own '30th Century Man', which is used as the bedrock for the jangley Apache toms beat and lust-for-life celebration, 'Life Can't Get Any Better'; whilst his morose tones echo large on the sadly lovelorn prose of 'This Is I Ask Of You'.
With his elaborate 18th Century cravats and tailored gentlemen's attire, the poetic protagonist often drifts into surprising waters: mooning like a carousing mid-70s Bowie and melodramatic Simon Le Bon - of all people - on the French sophisto-noir of 'If This Is Civilisation', or revisiting the wry wit and eloquently worded lyrics of Neil Hannon's Divine Comedy, on the Kierkegaard melancholy of 'Dead To The World' - possibly his best outing.
It may seem that with all these influences - worn on our tormented singers sleeves for the entire world to see - that Dando merely apes or pays homage to his inspirational hosts. Yet, in some ways this collection of acutely penned modern stirring songs, carries on the grand tradition of lugubrious and laid bare hymns by his influences with a subtle degree of wit and invention. On paper this album sounds daunting, but somehow at the same time heart-warming, as it chimes with relevance to our own times and attempts to put malady on the map.
Heathcliffian Surly shows that Dando's cup isn't just half-empty, but is smeared, cracked and slowly leaking the little content it still has left. To borrow a slightly changed, well-worn line from that Californian sage Brian Wilson, “Dando just wasn't made for these times”.