Even more unlikely than a concept album about cricket is a second concept album about cricket. Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh’s first Duckworth Lewis Method Album unexpectedly struck something of a chord, becoming a surprise summer hit and earning them a coveted Ivor Novello nomination.
Sticky Wickets naturally follows the same themes as their debut, but the execution this time is quite different. Part of the appeal of the first record was its sense of pastoral, old-England fields, lazy games and quaint country sports on sunny afternoons. Sticky Wickets, however, is a tribute to 70s pop and prog rock, the work of ELO specifically, a group which Hannon and Walsh have frequently cited as an influence.
The result is an album that perhaps won’t appeal to as wide an audience as the original, but still makes for a dappy, entertaining listen. Tunes like The Third Man and the title track, seem to channel the soul of Jeff Lynne directly (and the more restrained, tasteful part of it), while the lovely Out in the Middle is indebted to fellow cricket fans 10CC, and Steely Dan. The album’s most laugh-out-loud moment comes during Line and Length, an 80s funk pastiche where Hannon deadpans about the physics/geometry of bowling over heavy backing vocals, old-school synths and electric drums
Fans, friends and cricket royalty make guest appearances, mostly notably Daniel Radcliffe, Matt Berry, commentators David Lloyd and Henry Blofeld, and Stephen Fry, excellently deployed on Judd’s Paradox, the album’s emotional high-point.
It doesn’t all quite work; the production on The Cavaliers and Mystery Man is a touch flat, though gradually builds in both cases to more satisfyingly rowdy finales. It’s also hard to deny that the subject matter is becoming even more obscure: the first album offered listeners a very accessible structured trip through a game start to finish; Sticky Wickets gives you tunes about what it’s like to be third man before starting to reference the film, The Third Man, with Daniel Radcliffe appearing to monologue about the dark streets of Vienna. It’s jolly, but a little distracting for the non-cricket aficionado.
It’s this and the less summery-sound that may make it somewhat less successful than the first record, and ultimately less rewarding for repeat listening. It is, nevertheless, a ton of fun with a few transcendent moments that far outshine its novelty value.