No Sad Songs
A prose poem, which Stephen Duffy composed especially for the release of the ninth album by his band The Lilac Time, contains the lines, "I was a flower child, now I'm a flower man." It took a long time before one became the other. When viewed from space, Duffy's path may well appear labyrinthine, filled with loopholes and trapdoors. Yet a sober perspective reveals the path of a musician and poet who is independent in the very best sense of the word. Nevertheless, a lot has happened since the young boy kept his Praktica camera trained on street scenes in the Birmingham of the Cold War. Back in 1979, an 18-year-old Duffy was a founding member of Duran Duran. Yet he did not board the train to superstardom. The visionary instinct of the young artist had other intentions. He might have had Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, and The Incredible String Band in mind, but he himself was not allergic to success. He quickly understood that a songwriter with an acoustic guitar had little access to the merry-go-round of the charts in the early '80s. Instead, he formed the band Tin Tin, trading his guitar for a synthesizer and making chic, clever, and sparkling pop music. The young man with the melancholy expression even landed two international hits with "Kiss Me" and "Icing On the Cake." But before the record company was able to put their plan into action and turn Duffy into the next Rick Astley, he took flight. He mothballed his pop persona and founded a band with his brother: The Lilac Time. On their debut in 1987, they made what Duffy had long dreamed of: flower music. The 1988 single Return to Yesterday conjured visions of Simon & Garfunkel. In an era of slapping basses and smacking snares, the instrumentation was exceptional: mainly acoustic, with guitars, banjos, fiddles, and accordions, all beautifully arranged by Nick Duffy, who was also responsible for composing the instrumental pieces on the record. Keep in mind that the new acoustic movement, which brought forth bands like Belle and Sebastian and Kings of Convenience, was still more than ten years away. Often in diametrical contrast with this melancholy folk pop were Stephen Duffy's lyrics, with descriptions of suburban tristesse placed seamlessly alongside biting commentary on the issues of the times and courageous reports of the singer's moments of excess and aventures amoureuses.