Frequently while listening to Duck, you remember: this man judges a TV singing competition. It’s not that Ricky Wilson was indie’s greatest singer, but he knew what to do with his voice, a bawdy, beery thing that could definitely talk you into another pint. But now he’s a shiny-floor entertainer, parochial indie culture is dead, and Wilson sounds adrift. He won’t find an identity in the painfully strained Golden Oldies, a shouty song in sharp contrast to its broody sentiment. Nor in Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something, an unnervingly edgy vaudevillian number, Wilson bellowing about a girl locked in the bathroom while the sounds of knives being sharpened slice through the mix.
He’s more convincing as a ruffian George Ezra type: high on his band’s Motown merriment, he celebrates boyhood, “so innocent and joyful”, on People Know How to Love One Another, a song that bassist Simon Rix has unironically described as “a really important song and a great message for Brexit Britain”. Northern Holiday absolutely accepts Ezra’s invitation to ride shotgun underneath the hot sun, finding Wilson boasting of his ability to “order sandwiches in funny languages”, even though “they don’t make them like you do at home”. It’s shameless, but endearing, and echoes the quirky mundanity that powered the band’s rise 15 years ago (back when their now-departed drummer wrote the hits).
Wilson is most himself on the two strangest songs. Record Collection sounds like a bootlegged bootleg of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, and uses a cosily analogue metaphor to illuminate the creepiness of letting the internet remember everything we’ve ever done. Similarly oddball yet effective is the 1975-ish Target Market. Wilson’s lovelorn narrator tries to woo a girl through PowerPoint presentations, but can’t work out why she won’t bite: “You’re my target market / The only one I wanted to impress / My demographic in a vintage party dress.” It’s funny as a vignette, and a subtle ribbing of contemporary culture’s pandering. Kaiser Chiefs are guilty of that, too, but they still have enough hooks and appealingly weird quirks to keep getting away with it.