The Lilac Time's self-titled debut is the start of a perfect career. Right off the bat, Stephen Duffy and company mix poetry, pop melodies, and folk instrumentation to create songs of endless charm, mesmerizing passion, and tantalizing atmosphere. Accordions, acoustic guitars, woodwinds, exotic percussion, and Duffy's pensive voice all work toward an uplifting sadness rarely heard this side of Nick Drake. That's not to say that The Lilac Time is a depressing album; how could it be with Duffy's impeccable grasp on a pop chorus and the band's dedication to rolling folk revelries? While much of the album leans toward nature imagery, expressed mostly through metaphor, there's an equal dose of traveling songs to boot. One imagines a vintage 1800s steam train roaring through green pastures and lush vineyards during "Return to Yesterday," an upbeat song that reminisces about England's past and wonders about its future. There's ample bounce as well in "You've Got to Love," "Together," and "Too Sooner Late Than Better." The album makes clear that Duffy had a plan from day one as to the band's distinctive sound. Dark and moody songs like "And the Ship Sails On" and "Love Becomes a Savage" are as fully formed and evocative as similar songs that would appear on the band's late-era masterpiece Looking for a Day in the Night. Drawing favorable and justified comparisons to both the Smiths and Drake is quite an achievement in itself. That the Lilac Time would continue to reach such lofty heights is a testament to the songwriting prowess and subtle musical mastery of Duffy and his band of folk popsters. This fascinating debut is certainly a minimasterpiece, and it's the first step in a remarkable career that would bear additional masterpieces over multiple decades to follow.
AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina