One senses that Wilson could pen a song for any chart-humping superstar in a heartbeat, and do very well out of the deal, thank you very much. His songs possess a purity that the likes of Gary Barlow have channelled to amazing returns. Numbers like Lost Chord and Punch of a Friend are swaying, soft-hearted affairs that only the gifted can make sound like second nature. Always Been There pulls the kind of piano-pop shapes that Keane earn their considerable crust with, and is an effortlessly endearing equal of said act’s more inspired output.
Oh Pioneer, as its title goes some way to implying, isn’t without its moments of experimentation. Condition is a striking piece, growling guitars and buzzing electronics opening beside Wilson’s usual delicate way with a piano. But it’s the song’s lyrics that really grab, self-analysis via economical poetry, couplets like “I’m a pin drop / I am Phil Spector” more affecting in action than they probably seem on screen. And who can’t love a song that name-checks the Sinclair ZX81, honestly.
A quiet success, Oh Pioneer is one for when the rush subsides and all the listener can do is wallow in another’s embracing soundworld. Duke Special doesn’t need the charts – but they could do with more artists like him.
(...) But taken as a whole, Oh Pioneer finds a talented artist reaching outside of his comfort zone, and delivering the goods. More than that, it presents Duke Special as an artist who’s in it for the long run, someone capable of real artistic development and expansion. But even further still, it captures the sound of a man looking at himself and all his failings, and refusing to shy away from them in an incredibly affecting and involving way. Oh Pioneer might not please all of Duke Special’s long term fans, and it might struggle to win over a new fanbase, but it’s easily the most important record he’s ever made, and deserves to find a place in the world.
(...) Duke Special has burbled along beneath the radar for years. This is a great record and one that deserves a lot more attention than it is ever likely to get. Highly recommend for anyone who thinks piano in indie rock can be more than Ben Folds bashing away or Tim Minchin vamping for laughs. This Duke... well, it’s a cliche to say again, but he is special.