The great actor Bob Hoskins had a strange method of choosing which films he wanted to work on. He used to read scripts on the toilet, and if his ass started to get cold, it meant he was that into a script he’d spent a while reading it. He called it the “cold bum technique”. Now, this might be a weird way to start a review, but the point is that when evaluating a piece of work, you need some kind of system to help you decide whether it’s good or not. For me, I usually listen to an album a song/EP/album whilst at work. If I like a song, I can appreciate what aspects of the track I like while I continue working. If I don’t like it, it just gets skipped. Bit of a flawed system, but it works for me.
With Duke Charelle’s album “Beyond the Magick Mirror”, I’ve struggled to form an opinion because I keep finding myself skipping through tracks before they’ve finished. It’s not that they’re bad. Charelle is a talented performer who has amassed a master class of collaborators who have worked with the likes of Prince and Parliament. Tracks like “Tantric Dance” and “Liquid Galaxies” are filled with tight grooves and intricate instrumentation. Charelle serenades listeners throughout the album with his silky smooth vocals and cosmic lyrics.
But I think that’s where the problem lies with this album; everything sounds too neat and tidy. Every note, drum beat, bass line, and guitar strum sounds like it’s been rehearsed endlessly. That goes back to the need to skip songs because, after a minute or two on songs, it felt like they’d already given me everything they had to offer. This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the influences they were taking from. The guitars aim for Hendrix like psychedelic riffing, but the brilliance of Hendrix’s magic was that nothing ever sounded prepared. His songs sounded like they could go in any direction at any second. The funky groove sounds are indebted to the legendary George Clinton, but his best works came from the wild swings in tone and feel his band were able to switch to at any time.
The other problem is that the production just sounds flat. While Charelle’s band is tight and succinct, every song sounds like the producer just pressed record and left the band to do their thing. This does go back to the feeling that there’s no improvisation, as whatever flight of fancy that’s attempted (such as the flashes of Hendrix guitar play) never has any tricks or sound techniques to enhance them.
None of this is to wholly disregard the album, as there is plenty to like here and Charelle is a definite talent to watch out for. But while the album as a whole is respectable and well made, you can’t help but wish for something a little more off-the-wall.