Duke Special is nothing if not unique. With an unkempt mop of dreadlocks and a fair lashing of eyeliner, you could never say he panders towards popular taste. Playing what in various quarters has been described as 'Vaudeville Pop' and 'Burlesque Indie', in a distinctly strong Northern accent, will probably earn you that accolade by itself. However, on 'I Never Thought This Day Would Come', the man named Peter Wilson adds further proof that he is one of the most interesting, talented and fiercely singular songwriters on the island of Ireland today.
A more sombre record than his previous studio album, 'Songs from the Deep Forest', the songs never lose their ability to confound, astound and impress the listener.
As evidenced on the lead single 'Sweet Sweet Kisses', Special knows well how to write a song with a proper melody and a decent hook. Although the song's lyrical content hints at a bitter break-up, it's hard to escape from the sheer exuberance of the music. The breadth of instruments he uses, and the arrangements he employs, mean that the listener may be lots of things, but never bored.
Much the same can be said later on for 'Let Me Go (Please Please Please!)' with one crucial difference: not only is there a good hook, Special himself sings with passion and strength that is sometimes found absent on his more quirkier songs. If you were looking for the soul of the soulful Van Morrison before he morphed into a narky old so-and-so, it's here, and it is worth the price of admission all by itself.
Elsewhere, the title track, 'I Never Thought This Day Would Come (And Now It Won't Go Away)', delights with its 1940s music hall sensibilities and orchestral arrangement. 'Digging an Early Grave' juts and jars on its ska rhythm but never loses its way, while 'Why Does Anybody Love?' confounds the listener as a melancholy affair before exploding into light with its refrain of "Say yes if you'll be mine" in the last minute of the song.
It is probably unfair, though, to single out these particular songs for praise or otherwise. What's most impressive about 'I Never Thought This Day Would Come' is the overall coherence of the album. To achieve this with the quantity of instruments, musical styles and themes employed hints at a maturity in Duke Special which, considering it is only his second album proper, bodes well for the future.