Stephen Duffy

I Love My Friends

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When Stephen Duffy began recording I Love My Friends, he was riding high creatively after the release of the Duffy album in 1995. Its mix of big pop tunes, hard-charging rhythms (as provided by members of Velvet Crush), and Duffy's knack for a timeless hook made it a perfect fit with Brit-pop, even though it was recorded in America. The record didn't make much of an impression on the record-buying public, but his label gave him another chance anyway. This time he recorded in England with Brit-pop luminaries like Alex James of Blur and Justin Welch of Elastica helping out. The first half of the album has a glittery pop sound that's full of chiming guitars, thundering drums, and hooks big enough to hang a gold lamé jacket. "Seventeen" is a stomping rocker with serrated guitar riffs, "Eucharist" is a rolling tune lashed to a boogie beat, "You Are" is quirky cool radio pop, and "Lovers Beware" is perfect power pop plain and simple. Most of the second half is introspective folk pop not too far from the sound of the Lilac Time, with songs that are heartbreakingly honest ("The Postcard"), warmly nostalgic ("Twenty Three"), and smoothly sophisticated ("She Belongs to All"). With simple musical backing built around Duffy's burnished vocals, acoustic guitars, and the occasional addition of keys, strings, and flutes, it's a sidestep away from the glam and laddish pop of the day and into something more pastoral and calm. What ties the record together are the sincere and revealing lyrics that find Duffy looking back at his life so far and detailing all the ups and downs in detailed fashion. It gives the songs a thematic center and emotional richness that not too many Brit-pop albums of the day exhibit. Which could be why the record label hated it -- they asked Duffy to cut two songs and replace them with tracks produced by Andy Partridge -- and it barely scraped the bottom of the charts. Despite those setbacks, I Love My Friends is a fitting end to Duffy's flirtation with Brit-pop and a gentle launching pad back into the Lilac Time.

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