God Save the Clientele
For any band making a long go of it, stylistic change is inevitable and when that shake-up occurs there are bound to be divisions drawn by long-time fans. Belle & Sebastian is a prime example of this. Their graduation from bedroom to Broadway on Dear Catastrophe Waitress ended up alienating some but also enabled them to reach a wider pop audience. With God Save the Clientele, the sonic shift has struck The Clientele and while this release might not sound dramatically different to casual listeners, it took some getting used to for folks like me.
One of The Clientele’s defining characteristics was their dream-like sound. It had an agelessness that’s practically erased in this digital age. That low lo-fi hum — like the whisper of a running 4-track cassette tape — was like a reliable fourth instrument among the bass, drums and guitar. On this release, the band forsakes allusions to this ambiance to embrace clear melodies and bubblegum riffs. The inclusion of new member Mel Draisey on strings and piano to the band’s line-up has freed singer/guitarist Alasdair MacLean to focus more on rhythm rather than tremolo-soaked guitar leads. As such, the obvious Monkee-isms on the opener “Here Comes the Phantom” are momentarily shocking, as is the strident dance-punk strut (!) of “Bookshop Casanova,” but this band has had such a deep knowledge of pop songwriting at their disposal their whole career that there isn’t the slightest faltering in this boundary pushing. Tracks like “I Hope I Know You” and “The Queen of Seville” are more languid, restrained fare and sure to please those who reveled in the cool commiseration of The Clientele’s past. It’s too soon to tell if God Save the Clientele is a transition record from dream pop to a more ’60s bent psychedelic revival, but it’s a quality addition to their body of work and a fine tuning of their sound that should please all fans of well-crafted pop music.
Merge Records: www.mergerecords.com