Music Reviews
God Save The Clientele

The Clientele God Save The Clientele

(Merge) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Turns out rumours that the Clientele had made a Monkeys record were somewhat exaggerated. Sure, opener Here Comes The Phantom has the heartbeat of about a million other '60s British pop tunes, and it's central refrain ("My heart is playing like a violin!") sounds almost weightless. The song's "lonely cops pick flowers on their beats." And then there's the album title: God Save The Clientele. Seems like this band has found a sense of humour... right?

In the end, it hardly matters, as the band's sound and purpose is shifting quietly, significantly. Theirs is still a rainy-day soul, but now they've quit their day jobs, added a new member (violinist/keyboardist Mel Draisey) and recorded an album in Nashville. The result is mostly what you'd expect: easy steel guitar and/or thick studio strings support the band on almost every track, and the vocals are polished and pitch-perfect.

The band's turn as a four-piece is noteworthy: where guitarist/singer Alasdair MacLean and bassist James Hornsey once had to suggest the melody between their sparse arrangements, Draisey now often takes the lead. These songs sound lush and full even at their sparest moments, and the best stuff drifts in and out like an afternoon nap. The Queen Of Seville barely happens - a one-finger piano line, brushed drums, and Alasdair whispering, "It's going to be a lonely, lonely day," as though it were nothing to worry about. No Dreams Last Night sounds alternately like a wish and a lament, and (ironically or not) a dream in and of itself. And on Isn't Life Strange? as Alasdair sings "Isn't life strange / you end up alone / I call my folks / but there's nobody home," the trick is that that the Clientele pull off a lyric like that while sounding like a stately, professional wedding band.

Problem is, there's a high-gloss polish deep in the pores of this record, sealing out the old four-track hiss and producing a sound that's neither distant nor intimate. Gone is the ultra-heavy reverb and shadowy vocals of Suburban Light - music that sounded like it was drifting out from the window of a cramped third-floor studio. In its place are a lot of even-paced, decent to good songs that sometimes sound bored of each other. When the tempo does rise above the standard leisurely pace, as on The Garden At Night, the band stumbles badly, sounding forced. Bookshop Casanova fares slightly better, but only because its faux-disco strings and grinning lyric ("You've got my name / pick up my number") convince us this has to be a joke.

"Nothing here has any value / nothing here is real," sings Alasdair on I Hope I Know You. There is value in this light, dream-pop fare, but it rewards neither careful nor repeated listenings. Where we once had to work to get inside their songs and find the door left open as they played, the Clientele now sound like they're playing in an airtight studio. The strength of the songs is still there, but sum total of these parts ought to be more than just a breezy pop record.