Stephen Tin Tin Duffy — ‘Icing On The Cake’

Stephen Tin Tin Duffy — ‘Icing On The Cake’ music review

I was trying for ages to think of a way to describe how I feel about music. Then I found that someone had already done it for me.

Here’s music journalist Pete Paphides:

“I might have started buying Melody Maker, but I never stopped reading Smash Hits. For me, it was all part of the same thing”.

That’s me too. (The quote is from his fine article in response to a mean-spirited public comment by someone who should have known better.)

I grew up in front of mid-’80s Top of the Pops, where glamourpuss pop acts rubbed shoulder-pads with whipsmart indie bands. And quite often the glamour and the smarts rubbed off on each other. The ’80s were a crucible of catchy, literate, eclectic pop by the likes of Prince, Kate Bush, Prefab Sprout, The Associates, The Human League, Adam Ant, ABC, Pet Shop Boys and many, many more.

Here’s one example of the best from that era — a tune I probably heard only a couple of times back then but which has stuck in my head ever since.

Though not quite the Pete Best of his generation, Stephen Tin Tin Duffy left Duran Duran before they became filthy rich and famous, and at the time this seemed to be how every TV and radio presenter presented him. (‘Tin Tin’ was the name of another of his earlier bands, which he then took on for his solo act.) But he had his own modest chart success in 1985, then gathered a cult following in the ‘90s, before finally hitting paydirt as producer and co-writer of one of Robbie Williams’ chart-topping albums in the ‘00s.

Duffy’s biggest chart hit, ‘Kiss Me’, left me cold, mostly because I can’t get past the stunningly inane chorus lyric of “kiss me with your mouth”. However, his following single still sounds magical. ‘Icing On The Cake’ takes familiar components of ’80s chart pop (synthesisers, slapped bass) and post-punk indie (wry lyricism, youthful defiance, bruised romanticism) and welds them together with blasé eclecticism; only just now, on listening to it again, has it dawned on me that the solo break is in jazz piano. Also, its chorus is fantastically catchy, helped by considerably better lyrics.

I had assumed that this song was a top-ten fixture for the best part of a month. But no — ‘Icing On The Cake’ only scraped up to number 14 in the UK and then disappeared from the charts, as did Duffy himself. Even when he was making retro-flavoured guitar pop during the Britpop years, he never got the Edwyn Collins-style valedictory comeback he deserved.

Still, I hope that in his quieter moments Stephen Duffy sits back, rests his feet up on wads of Robbie Williams money, and thinks back on this track as a job particularly well done:

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