October 25, 2005

The Clientele "Strange Geometry"

Having been spoiled on The Clientele's singles, their debut album, The Violet Hour was a bit troublesome. While it was a good record, the band seemed to neglect their pop side for moodier, more experimental fare; songs were longer, hazier, and a bit more languid. The Violet Hour felt quite a bit removed from the Clientele that made succinct, pretty pop songs that sounded great on a 45, and though a gorgeous listen, it didn't quite have the magic of their earlier work. Their new album, Strange Geometry, seemed to be a make-or-break proposition--would the band dive deeper into the atmosphere, would they take a turn back into melancholy pop, or would they find a way to masterfully combine the two?

Perhaps The Violet Hour was too ambitious of a step forward; one must remember that until that record was released, The Clientele had never recorded a full-length album. Their songs were succinct, but they were succinct simply because they had to be, in order to fit on the side of a seven inch single. Strange Geometry finds the band turning away from the longer, hazier moments of The Violet Hour and making a step back towards their more concise songwriting. The songs on Strange Geometry sound like they could be singles, and that makes this reviewer quite happy, as composing singles has always been and will always be The Clientele's greatest strength. Songs like the grooving "E.M.P.T.Y.," the organ-driven shuffle of "My Own Face Inside the Trees" and the gorgeous, shimmering "Step Into the Light" all deserve to grace a slab of vinyl.

But just because the band's reverting to a sound that's more Suburban Light than The Violet Hour, don't think that their songwriting hasn't matured, because it most certainly has. From the very first notes of "Since K Got Over Me," it's instantly obvious that The Clientele has become a powerhouse of melancholy pop. The glimmers of 60s-era pop illuminate their songs, but you won't mistake them for a 'retro' band at all. (Be on the lookout for nods to classic hits of that decade; "Since K Got Over Me" has a nod to "Be My Baby," while the intro to "K" is nearly identical to Elvis Presley's "Don't Cry Daddy.") The production is sparkling, and there are some excellent string arrangements, courtesy of French pop conniseur Louis Phillipe. Most importantly, Alasdair Maclean is still a mopey boy, and his songs still make you feel like you're walking down a cold, rainy London street at midnight--which is a very good thing, because it's what he does best.

Strange Geometry is The Clientele's best record to date, and it reaffirms everything good about pop music. The Clientele's been my favorite band for a long time, and this record is a wonderful little reminder of why I love them so. If you've never heard them, do yourself a favor and rectify this immediately. You really won't regret it.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.theclientele.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.mergerecords.com

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