As the ad campaign goes, it can only be an Ashes summer when cricket in England momentarily takes centre stage and even permeates pop culture. One of the most pleasurable - and unlikely -ways this has happened in the summer of 2009 is via The Duckworth Lewis Method - a cricket-themed concept album. The result is eccentric, extremely listenable, and all in all rather wonderful.
The album is an unashamed tribute to cricket, its institutions, history and influence on our lives. Messrs Duckworth and Lewis live in a romanticised and nostalgic world where the sun always shines, every shot gets a polite ripple of applause and the sandwiches are always cut into neat triangles. The album starts with "The Coin Toss" and ends when the umpire calls over. In between is a rich tapestry of cricket pop that simply eclipses all previous attempts at the fusion of cricket and pop music.
Some songs are about cricket itself, from the international zeitgeist of "The Age of Revolution" to the autobiographical "Flatten the Hay"; others - such as "The Nightwatchman" and "The Sweet Spot" - simply use cricket's glossary as their inspiration. The new single, "Meeting Mr Miandad", almost defies description but somehow works as a Pythonesque audio road-movie.
Duckworth and Lewis wear their musical influences on their finely pressed sleeves. "Gentlemen and Players" could be the missing track from the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society; if Flanders and Swann were to pen a cricket song, it would sound something like "Jiggery Pokery"; ELO would be proud of "The End of the Over", and even the Beatles wouldn't mind lending them the final note from "A Day in the Life".
The laugh-out-loud "Jiggery Pokery" is written from the perspective of Mike Gatting facing the Ball of the CenturyTM. The story unfolds at Old Trafford after the departure of "poor Athers", and concludes with the words "I hate Shane Warne." Even Gatt's self-deprecating "cheese roll" anecdote gets a lyrical outing.
This extraordinary album is the work of Neil Hannon - better known as the man behind The Divine Comedy - and Thomas Walsh of unknown Dublin band Pugwash. Fans of The Divine Comedy certainly won't be disappointed - "Test Match Special" is up there with "National Express" and "Something for the Weekend" as one of his finest pop nuggets.
The fact that an album like this can actually exist at all is something to celebrate, and Duckworth and Lewis cannot fail to raise a smile by the time the umpire calls over.
The Duckworth Lewis Method
by The Duckworth Lewis Method