Rain/Oasis, Seymour/Blur, Contempo/Hard-Fi… The roll call of failed indie tragedies who went on to greatness under a new name is short but stellar. To that list you may soon be able to add Duels, neé failed indie tragedies Sammy USA. As gloriously overblown opener ‘Brothers & Sisters’ bursts into the most spectacular falling-down-a-spiral staircase chorus you’ll hear all year, it’s clear this Leeds-via-Jersey pop family affair have something to prove. The ghosts of their past now form their muse and motivation. All of which begs the question, what, exactly, have they learned?
Well, principally, to keep their mucky paws out of Britpop’s grave. Instead, Duels head straight to the source: on giddy delights ‘Potential Futures’ and ‘Animal’ singer Jon Foulger warbles like Bowie’s Ritalin-crazed tiny sibling, over his brother Jim (guitars) and cousin Katherine’s (keyboards) glam-pop backing. They’ve also mastered the art of the grand pop song – from sugar-rush jitter-rock (‘Pressure On You’) to wistful keyboard-driven croons (‘Taxi Song’). But it’s ‘Slow Build’, the album’s diamond-encrusted centre piece, that’s the key moment. Opening as a nondescript strum, it morphes into a gem of gloriously heartfelt Ziggy-style splendour, making it the perfect soundtrack to Duels’ ascent from the indie gutter.
Above all though, Duels have learned how to cast off the millstone of being “the Kaisers’ new favourite band” by doing what their bezzie mates can’t: writing sparkling glam-pop without a hint of irony or tongue-in-cheek humour. Bet Ricky’s secretly jealous, y’know.