In every sense of the word, Cuff the Duke's major-label debut is an epic of a record. It skips across genres as effortlessly as a rock on water; it deals with major themes; and it sounds like a million bucks. To ponder that this is only the band's second release is awe-inspiring. The album opens in Blue Rodeo territory with the rootsy "The Future Hangs," before veering wildly into "I Really Want to Help You" -- which would have you think it's quirky power pop before shifting halfway through to become a proggy instrumental opus. You get the picture. The tone shifts come fast and furious to keep you on your toes: the frantic country jam of "Take My Money and Run"; the haunting epic new wave strings of "No Sleep, No Heat"; the pure strangeness of "The Ballad of Poor John Henry," which should not suggest to the listener that this is a typical ballad. And the lyrics are frightening in the topics they tackle and the intimacy of their experience. In "There Was a Time," lead singer Wayne Petti unexpectedly and suddenly wails over a gorgeously orchestrated wall, "Mom, I'm not gay!/Dad, I'm not gay!/I won't apologize/You wouldn't want me to change." When Petti says "I took the time to compare emotions with energy/And found that the secret was to always have a strategy" ("I'll Meet You on the Other Side"), he is letting you in on the fact that -- despite his age -- he knows a thing or two about the world and the way it works. Part of the joy of this album is discovering it, so nothing more need be said -- other than a recommendation that you give it undivided attention upon first listening. A particular comment regarding the bravado closer, appropriately titled "It's Over," is also warranted: it would be hard to imagine a more fitting end to a roller coaster ride like Cuff the Duke.
AllMusic Review by Tomas Mureika