The Duke Spirit – Bruiser

The Duke Spirit – Bruiser

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There’s a point in every band’s life when it has to decide its true purpose – is it out to inspire the masses to its message or is it limping out a rock ’n’ roll existence because, hey, it’s better than waiting tables. There’s not enough of the former and far too many of the latter, and it’s the responsibility of us as listeners to blow the whistle when we see a band drifting into that sea of mediocrity. So Duke Spirit, consider yourself warned: This causal blandness simply will not stand.

Bruiser, the third album from the London quintet, is crisp, clear and utterly forgettable, a collection of songs that sound just fine but forge no real identity. It’s a head-scratcher for sure – the band has an enticing lead singer in Leila Moss and a pair of solid albums already on its docket. But Bruiser never feels fresh or daring, doing little to burnish what good will The Duke Spirit has engendered over the years.

The opening “Cherry Tree” is littered with alt-rock cliches, the grinding guitar and the grimy bass line serving as musical interludes set around a typical, pedestrian drum beat. Moss could save it with more inspired vocals, but chooses instead to keep an even keel. The song ends as a flippant aside, drifting into “Procession” without much fanfare or merit. In fact, most every song on Bruiser ends in resignation, moving on to the next tune with passive alacrity. It’s an odd move for producer Andrew Scheps (U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers) to make, and perhaps would work better with more dynamic songs.

There are moments of power, reminders The Duke Spirit hasn’t scrubbed away its feistiness. “Don’t Wait” and “Surrender” show Moss at her lyrical best, using her voice as a hammer to pound happily along with the accompanying musical frenzy. The final minute of “Surrender” is racy and exciting, a glimpse of how good the band can be.

But “Bodies” follows, lumbering with a bass found in earlier tracks. “De Lux” works to be dreamy and eclectic with plinking pianos and fuzzy synths, but in trying to hard it becomes labored and trite. “Northbound” is a dated pseudo-ballad without much edge, and I have the distinct feeling 2003 Leila Moss would kick the ass of 2011 Leila Moss for allowing the lyric “Fire of love/ On and on and on” to exist in the band’s repertoire.

I become snide when I know a band I admire can do better – and The Duke Spirit can (and has) done much better than this. The third album is a big test for most bands, and Bruiser is the work of a band that needs to stay back a grade.


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