The Duke Spirit - Cuts Across The Land

Alex Worsnip 16/05/2005

Rating: 4/5

Want to escape from the current crop of 80s-influenced bands? The Duke Spirit are the perfect answer to your dilemma. Their brand of dark, entrancing, bluesy, ballsy garage-rock hasn't a bleeping keyboard or a Robert Smith vocal impression in sight. Anyone who has ever witnessed their live shows knows that they are a captivating experience, swathing the listener in swirling tornadoes of distortion, all topped off by frontwoman Liela Moss, who is not the whimsical, sweet vocalist that lets the men get down to the real work as in so many female-fronted bands, but instead a powerful, charismatic presence intoning sultry, deep tones like a Patti Smith for the new generation - the kind of woman rock needs far, far more of (as opposed to token female bassists). Their live power never quite translates to record, but Cuts Across The Land comes pretty damn close. Like The Jesus & Mary Chain before them, the guitar assault masks the songs on first listen but their charms come through the more you listen. The album is stuffed full of brilliant lyrics, memorable riffs and an underlying sense of melody.

There is a fair deal of variation while maintaining cohesion: singles 'Cuts Across The Land' and 'Dark Is Light Enough' (here as a bonus track) cut and burn at speed, while slower tracks like the desolate, wailing 'Darling You're Mean' achieve a beguiling intensity that recalls The Velvet Underground. Track after track is consistent, from the gorgeous comedown of 'Hello To The Floor' to the rip-roaring 'Fades The Sun' to the drugged-out psychadelica of 'Lovetones'. It occasionally palls slightly: the relentless 'You Were Born Inside My Heart' and 'Red Weather' being, while still accomplished, not the best of the bunch. The music and lyrics evoke sexuality, aggression, hurt and darkness with a primal urge that explodes like the best underground music, while staying firmly planted on hook-laden ground. Like PJ Harvey fronting The Rolling Stones after they've been captured, tortured and manipulated by Lou Reed and John Cale. The sound is genius, and you get the impression you're listening to something genuinely dangerous, infected with suggestion, desperation and a crazed intensity. When they sit back, its sounds captivatingly sinister; when the bear down and rock, they're unstoppable. They can switch from catchy rock single to uncommercial, experimental haze in seconds, and they're equally effectively in both modes.