I Love My Friends (Needle Mythology).
In an feature on Japanese TV in 1995, Stephen Duffy explained the reason for his latest reinvention as 'Duffy'. In typical dry fashion he noted that every name change represented 'another chapter heading in my story....and I couldn't get my name any shorter.'
In the previous chapter, (where he meets Nigel Kennedy and makes a spellbinding album called 'Music in Colors') Duffy had, again, made music that should have set the world on fire, but somehow he ends up playing to ten people at the Newcastle Riverside. Another blow, but one that he was getting used to.
This new chapter looked like it was going to be a lot more fun. He had a 'rock and roll combo' behind him, friends in the Britpop fraternity and a pair of infectious indie chart singles. What next? Would minor cult status morph into major chart success? Would there be now actually be a critical reappraisal of The Lilac Time? Would anyone go back and buy 'Music in Colors'?
That time has still yet to arrive! 'I Love My Friends' may have mixed the familiar Duffy themes of memory and desire (later, the title of his career spanning anthology), but these were far more reflective and personal numbers. Following the death of his father and succumbing to depression, Duffy's writing had become meditative, laying bare his emotions.
We're introduced to the protagonist, a singer-songwriter who flees his hometown and has a brief glimpse of pop stardom on 'Eucharist' , he screws up relationships ('I was an empty head libertine') on '17' and realises his own unflattering status as a 'tinsel god' on 'One Day One of These Fucks Will Change Your Life'. He's still a romantic, but the love that he desires is just around the corner, just out of reach or in the case 'The Deal' and 'Autopsy' in desperate need of attention. On the sweetly acoustic 'Twenty Three' he stares back at his young idealism with a rueful tone, trying to make sense of all that's now around him, whilst wondering if a current object of his affection has noticed him. It's an extraordinarily beautiful song.
Of all of these autobiographical numbers, the most direct and agonising is 'The Postcard' - that handles the shock of learning that a former girlfriend has died. The complex emotions are laid out ('I didn't write you songs when we were going out/so why should I start now that you are not about), his memories are crystal clear and the revelation in the chorus ('I feel as though the past is closing in on me), is unbearably real.
'I Love My Friends' should have been received as his great achievement. But, as the quiet acoustic numbers outweighed the jangling instant pop songs, his record label (Indolent), scratched their heads and demanded a rethink. Breezier, but formulaic, numbers were added and delicate and intimate gems were demoted to b-sides ('Mao Badge' and gorgeous 'In the Evening of Her Day'). Yet, even after bowing to the demands of the label, he was inelegantly dropped and the album sat on a shelf until Cooking Vinyl released it a year later.
It's taken the assistance of The Guardian's music journalist Peter Paphides to help restore 'I Love My Friends' to its intended format. His 'Needle Mythology' label (itself the title of another Duffy song) seeks to bring long sought after releases to vinyl. In doing so, those reflective acoustic numbers have been returned to their rightful place. The 'Duffy' chapter is now complete.
There would be other chapter headings in the tale of Stephen Duffy that followed 'I Love My Friends'.The one marked 'and then he wrote an album with Robbie Williams' still seems incongruous to some, but there have been a handful of thoughtful and mature albums by The Lilac Time to emerge since. Their tenth album 'Return To Us' is released later this year.
The story continues.
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Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.