The existence of one concept album about cricket is surprising enough, but the self-titled debut by The Duckworth Lewis Method — Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash, who are a sort of Dublin ELO — did so well in 2009 that they’ve made another one. Like its purist-irking predecessor, Sticky Wickets is musically open-minded and straightforwardly fun enough to give the unconverted an idea of why so many people love this incomprehensible game. But DLM also know that, like any sport, cricket is a metaphor for wider anxieties and rivalries, for the fading of tradition and the loneliness of the bit-part player.
There are guest vocals from celebrity leather-and-willow fans Stephen Fry, Daniel Radcliffe and Matt “The IT Crowd” Berry. But what makes it most entertaining for the Test Match-phobic listener is the way that Hannon and Walsh mix up genres and styles with incorrigible glee. The record opens, for instance, with a vocoderised statement of its title in the style of Kraftwerk — a longtime Hannon obsession — then deftly switches into grimy ’70s acid rock, perhaps the least cricket-y sound imaginable. “Out in the Middle” has a Harry Nilsson lilt, “The Laughing Cavaliers” resembles an Edwardian drinking song, and “Line and Length” is pure ’80s Art of Noise/Thomas Dolby roboticism — perhaps the other least cricket-y sound imaginable. There are glimpses too of Hannon’s classically-trained, young-person’s-guide-to-the-orchestra inclinations, as when tablas pop up on “Boom Boom Afridi,” a tribute to much-admired Pakistani all-rounder Shahid Afridi. And there’s a good 10cc joke in the affecting lament “The Umpire” in which female voice whispers “Umpires don’t cry…”
Chiefly the album is reminiscent of the boiling hot summers of the 1970s, a troubled but romantic era for the game when shaggy streakers and long-haired batsmen scampered over parched grass, and sunny radio pop reigned. In that respect too, Sticky Wickets is no purist’s endeavor — it’s a time capsule for everyone.