Most of you reading this, if you remember the name Duncan Sheik at all,it’s because you couldn’t duck into a supermarket without hearing “Barely Breathing” in 1996. It was Sheik’s only legitimate hit, but it’s incredibly unfair to relegate him to one-hit wonder status.
Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the male singer-songwriter had fallen out of favor in the Nineties. The only dudes hitting the charts were R&B vocalists, rappers or frontmen for grunge or jangle-rock bands. Had Sheik arrived five or six years later, it’s possible that his initial success would have paved the way for a more commercially fruitful career.
Part of that can also be attributed to the fact that although Sheik generally works within a pop framework, his music is a little smarter than the average Top 40 fare, with an edge that can be sarcastic at times (the gleefully snotty “Bite Your Tongue”) or dark (from his first album, there’s “Reasons for Living”, which is essentially a suicide note set to music). Cookie-cutter he was and is not.
After five albums that ranged from pretty good (2006’s “White Limousine”) to friggin’ excellent (2002’s “Daylight”), Sheik found his biggest success composing the music for the Broadway musical Spring Awakening (dude has actually made me think about buying a Broadway cast album…something I’ve never done before). Talk about belated thanks, not only has the show been a smashing success, but it’s won Duncan a Grammy as well as several Tony awards.
My list of favorite Duncan songs runs pretty long: “Days Go By” and the aforementioned “Reasons for Living”, “Varying Degrees of Con-Artistry” (probably my favorite song title ever), “A Body Goes Down” (dedicated to kindred spirit Jeff Buckley), the heartbreaking “Half Life” and the stunning soundtrack cut “Wishful Thinking”. If you own nothing by this guy, I strongly recommend you check out this guy’s double-disc anthology “Brighter/Later”.
“Good Morning!” is a song from the “Daylight” album, and it pretty much summarizes everything I love about Duncan Sheik. Excellently written, he sings with a smirk (if you can imagine that), and it’s worth the price of admission for this line alone:
“Who needs to join the circus?/Come on, just look around/We are surrounded/By a bunch of fucking clowns!!” There’s no official video for it-it wasn’t a single. But some enterprising soul on YouTube put together this fairly neat video.
Fun Duncan fact: The person that brought him to the attention of his former label, Atlantic Records, was…”Girlfriends” star Tracee “Daughter of Diana” Ellis-Ross, who was a classmate of Duncan’s at Brown University.