JEFF DUFF: Being Jeff Duff
To release your thirtieth album is no mean feat. An act of sublime defiance and longevity. Such is so with the genuinely remarkable Australian man of other worlds, Jeff Duff, a rock and roll survivor, a maverick, and an entity worthy of greater note. His has been a fantastical sojourn along the highways and alleyways of musical existence. To have completed such an achievement and sound fresh, challenging, and relevant is to be applauded and an act few can validate.
Having surfed the fashions and foibles of fame, this remarkable elfin figure with a cresting, soaring voice of great poignancy, part Iggy Pop, a dash of Bowie, a twist of Lou Reed, is a cocktail that is entirely his own. He even can sport a quote from the silver-wigged art world wonder Andy Warhol, "Sinatra, Presley, Jagger, Popeye, and now... Duffo!," got to Number One in Argentina with a salient cover of Reed's hymn to Low-life life "Walk On the Wild Side," hung out with the Thin White Duke, and generally coasted against the grain of Australian conventions. He was almost beaten to death in a homophobic attack which means his skinny frame is these days held together by screws and pieces of metal. However, not gay Duffo was sufficiently different to upset the natives, an act that almost saw his permanent demise. In a publicity-hungry stunt in the late seventies during his relocation to the UK, he chained himself to the gates of No 10 Downing Street, an impossible feat these days and one that would find one shot with the questions being asked later.
"Being" begins with an almost Arabic vibrancy in the guise of the epic soundscape that is "Romancing Paris 1895," a perfect shimmering sands confection, eloquent, poised, and enchanting, it has true verve as a paean to the downfall of Wilde with elements of Lodger-era Bowie. "Falling in love meant falling from grace" neatly encapsulates the ethos of this telling tale. "If You Go Away," dedicated to the memory of Scott Walker, is given a fresh air of modernity and echoes vocally the subject of the tribute. In another world, Jeff Duff could have been a crooner of considerable panache, but he has a rock 'n' roll heart. With "And So it Rains In Venice," we have a brooding significant production number, all swagger and sway with an impassioned vocal cresting above a bed of strings and sparkly piano motifs; this is a song that twists and coils like the craziness of snakes.
"Paradise Lost" allows a heartbeat sensuality to pervade as it swells into a simmering "cry in your gin" Glam-lament. All pathos and arch melancholy, this is a swaggering anthem for an era of lost and grieved over glories. "Don't bring on your chaos, and don't bring on the night." Moving and exceptionally haunting, it grabs the listener by the ears of his soul. "What Was I Thinking" is a nightscape ballad of neon sensibilities, crisscrossing the two divine Davids, Sylvian and Bowie. It is exquisite, mannered, and a brooding masterpiece with beautiful guitar licks as it leaves. "Manchild" has a Jobriath-like piano-drenched sadness, a sorrowful sorrow that builds and cascades, a lament to the indifference of being different and disappointed.
There is a jaunty Anthony Newley-like music hall conceit to 'Brain Dancing' about Einstein's near-mythical meeting with Marilyn Monroe, which even pillages "E equals Mc squared" into the lyric, a witty and playful diversion and confection. "King Of Yesterday" is self-revelatory and Peter Gabriel-like, an anthem of choral hugeness that explains "the road that leads nowhere is the road I choose to follow." "Tawny" exhibits aspects of Bowie's "Young Americans" with a blue-eyed black sleekness. Smooth with an eloquent edge that smolders with refined sophistication, a neat exercise of contrivance and restraint with saxophone embellishments towards the end. The closer is "Willow," a wavering perfection of light funk at play that bows out with majestic grace.
The bonus track, Duff's 1989 take on "MacArthur Park," in no way jars or seems out of place, a perfect second ending that shows what an ageless instrument Duff's voice remains. This is pure bombast with class and a gracious gift that nods and winks to a stellar past and a future that simmers with sublime anticipation.
Jeff Duff has delivered a gilt-edged calling card of professionalism, inspiration, and panache.
Proof perfect that life begins at thirty.