Sometimes you revise your opinion of something but can never quite shake those first impressions. Nothing Gold Can Stay, the debut album from The Duke & The King – one half of whom is a renegade Felice brother – struck me first as a shapelessly wistful record a little like transparent nail gloss: nice sheen, but that’s about all you can say about it. It starts and ends in exactly the same sepia-tinged way, steadily mid-tempo and sweetly sung throughout, but without any kinks or shifts which might catch your attention again after the first few choruses.
Listening to it on headphones revealed a few extra layers, and living with the songs for a while started to reveal their subtly separate identities. So the record isn’t a total bust; yet its four-star reviews in the Independent and the Guardian still seem wildly over-stated. Even The Times is at it: “The sheer quality of the writing is epitomised by the seductive blue-eyed soul of Suzanne and by Lose My Self, a hook so perfect, it doesn’t need a song around it.” The two songs Mark Edwards singles out for particular mention are indeed the album’s highlights, but they are far from representative. ‘If You Ever Get Famous’ starts promisingly but goes nowhere, and ‘Summer Morning Rain’ pushes its late-60s/early-70s influences so far that it sounds like Mike Flowers Pops doing Laurel Canyon.
In a sense, the album is meant to be circular. Its presiding theme is rememberance of things past, nostalgia for more innocent times. And so the songs cycle around the same concepts – ‘One More American Song’ even explicitly references another of the album’s tracks, ‘Union Street’, and its title is thoroughly apt for an album steadfastly sticking to a very particular idiom. This deliberateness, though, doesn’t neuter the criticism that it still makes for a repetitive listen.
It’s not that the album is bad – in fact, it’s a very pleasant listen, and goes down very easily. For my tastes, though, it’s a little too easy.