Sucess has apparently whetted Duncan Sheik's appetite- for self-immolation.
"I am the snake that bites his own tail," the troubador sings in the
reproachful "Nothing Special," a song that reviews the reasons he's not "all
that," even after a gold-selling debut album and a massive hit, "Barely
Breathing." But to be fair, Humming is no angst-ridden foolow-up; as Sheik
informs us in the opening track, he's more interested in examing the "In
Between" of varied emotions and circumstances, finding both light ("Everyone,
Everywhere," "Alibi") and dark ("House Full of Riches," "Varying Degrees of
ConArtistry," "Rubbed Out"). With that in mind, he tells us "There's no use
wondering what I mean." The question, then, is how does it sound?
The answer is pretty good, particularly for those smitten by Duncan
by lush, crafted, acoustic-oriented and moody pop in general. The strength of
the former Ivy Leaguer's songs are their melodies, sturdy skeletons capable
of supporting almost any kind of dressing he and co-producer Rupert Hine wrap
around them. More oftern than not they choose the delicate route, with
carefully deployed percussion and ringing guitar arrangements that bring a
gentle shimmer to songs such as "In Between," "Everyone, Everywhere,"
"Nothing Special," and "House Full of Riches."
What muscle there is- save for the rote modern rock of "Bite Your Tongue"-
comes courtesy of Simon Hale's string arrangements, which swell and sweep in
bold, dramatic accents. A fragile instrumental air enhances the elegiac
quality of "A Body Goes Down," Sheik's mournful tribute to the late Jeff
Buckley, while Sheik's slide guitar elicits a George Harrison tinge on
"Alibi." The rootsy restraint of "That Say It All" works, even if the name
checking of Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and other rock icons is
quixotic at best. But the songs are just as evocative when Sheik and Hine let
them ride on the sparest of arrangements, as they do on the airy "Nichiren"
and the hushed bonus track, "Foreshadowing." "Iwant to sing of better
times/Iwant to sing of hope," Sheik asserts in the latter, but we know that
would be too easy; like so many singer-songwriters, he really does have more
to say about the in-betweens than the absolutes.