In 2003, a huge electrical failure left 55million North Americans in darkness. Power metal overlords Manowar claimed responsibility, declaring it “a testament to Heavy Metal Might and Thunder that one power chord from our steeled hands could wreak such havoc in the lives of mortals”. Why? Because they could.
In that spirit, there’s a preening mating call on ‘Duke Pandemonium’ called ‘Je Suis Un Funky Homme’ that’s all bomp-bass and sex-panther funk guitar. It makes little sense – the concept driving Marmaduke Duke’s second album is a vehicle for the playful imaginations of Biffy’s Simon Neil and Sucioperro’s JP Reid – but it doesn’t matter. It’s so superbly over the top, switching from a synth-driven strut to a faux-emo lament at the drop of a cloak, that there’s no option but to switch your brain off and maybe have a giggle. Oh, and dance.
This middle part of a three-album cycle documenting the life of The Duke, a primally hedonistic figure as focalised through the musical musings of The Dragon (Reid) and The Atmosphere (Neil), ‘Duke Pandemonium’ is, at its best, dumb fun that wants nothing more than to move some feet. As far removed from the gut-punch rock of its creators’ day jobs as Gorillaz were from Blur, the likes of ‘Everybody Dance’ and ‘Erotic Robotic’ are hotwired pop blasts, all crotch-tightening falsetto and leonine disco pulse. ‘Rubber Lover’, conversely, sounds like chart-friendly R&B played by a crew of sexual deviants swapping notes on past conquests.
And it’s because of Biffy’s gargantuan success that they can make ‘Duke Pandemonium’ such an event rather than sneaking it out as a private joke as with their first album. That the last sound on the album is laughter at the sheer ludicrousness of closer ‘Skin The Mofo Alive’, with its gleeful pantomime growls of “skin the motherfucker aliiiiiiive!”, only confirms the sense they’re relishing being able to cock around on this grand scale.
It won’t be clutched to the heart, because it’s far too ephemeral (when they stray into more straightforward territory, as on ‘Silhouettes’ and ‘Kid Gloves’, MD become slightly redundant) and can grate with its ever-arched eyebrow. But ‘Duke Pandemonium’ is meant to be a laugh, a light-hearted muck-about that provides more fun in its five best songs than most albums can muster in a dozen or so. Ben Patashnik