Stephen Duffy

I Love My Friends [Expanded Edition]

(CD - Needle Mythology #NEMYCD 001)

Review by

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 Britpop, 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 Britpop 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 side step 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 describing all the ups and downs in detailed fashion. It gives the songs a thematic center and emotional richness that not too many Britpop 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 Britpop and a gentle launching pad back into the Lilac Time. [When Needle Mythology reissued the album in 2019, they sought out Duffy's help to restore the album to his original vision. Along with a new cover image, the track list is radically revised and shuffles the up-tempo tracks, quiet songs, and stripped-down ballads in a more balanced fashion. Gone entirely is the jokey, knees-up "Something Good"; the two Partridge-produced songs are bumped to bonus-track status; and the two songs Duffy removed are back. The gentle sophisti-pop epic "Mao Badge" and the tender acoustic ballad "In the Evening of Her Day" are emotionally powerful, richly melodic songs that give the album a more introspective, gentle feel. It makes sense why the record label didn't see their value during the heyday of Britpop -- and the Partridge tracks are brilliant pop confections -- but their restoration bumps the album up a notch from great to classic. Along with the new and improved album proper, the label includes a second disc of demos Duffy recorded around the same time as the album. The songs are typically smart and pretty pop, less produced than the usual fare but just as good as anything that saw the light of day. A few of them did see release in different versions; many of them are being heard for the first time here. It's a treasure trove of goodies for Duffy fans and the fact that it's titled Blown Away: Selected Demos, Vol. 1 gives hope there are more great songs in the vault waiting to be released in the future. Hopefully by Needle Mythology, because to judge by this release they know how to do reissues the right way.]

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