I emigrated to South Africa from the UK over a decade ago and manage to get ‘home’ to see family friends a couple of times of year. After giving my mum a cuddle, one of the first things I tend to do is to walk down to my local pub to re-acquaint myself with being a ‘local’.
This pub is rough. It could perhaps do with a lick of paint. The furniture has not changed since I left, the pool cues look as if they have been in one fight too many and the regular clientele have more scars, tattoos and missing teeth than the average prison yard. The men are equally as rough. However, despite how bad this sounds, their is a warmth to it that I am always drawn back too as it is a place I know and feel comfortable in.
The Clean / this album are the musical equivalent of my local in so many ways. They are equally as discordant but equally as warm and appealing, mixing weirdness with an invite to a listening experience that is rough but immensely comfortable. In this, their fourth album and after a hiatus of 5 years, the warm sense of discord is even more apparent.
With the notable exception of The Go-Betweens-esque stylistic of the Poor Boy (see below) and Holdin’ On, the majority of this album does not really offer those inimitable Dunedin Sound jangle-pop moments that previous albums such as Oddities (1985) and Vehicle (1990) provided. Instead this album flexes the imagination of a band, that by virtue of the fact that they had now gone out and received critical acclaim in their various solo projects, could now try something new, free from the encumbrance of a total fan base loss.
As such it gets delightfully weird in the way that piques and maintains the interest rather than repels it. Initially in tracks such as Alpine Madness, the sprawling anti-epic of Reprise 1-2-3-4 and Silence or Something Else there is the curious and almost inscrutable tendency to slide off into numerous musical tangents rather than present any discernible song structure. These tracks convey an early album Meat Puppets aesthetic added to by their own inevitable Kiwi / Dunedin dry, flatness.
Similarly the sense of obtuse continues with several shambling epics. Tracks such as Aho, Stars and strangely eastern infused Jala all comfortably exceed 5 minutes, which are alien to crunchy 2-3 minute tracks that were the previous essence of the band. The convention when reviewing such tracks is to marvel at how the tracks ‘develop’. However The Clean, with their new found imaginative freedom, prefer to stutter their way through these epics evoking an almost Wire feeling of nervous energy that engulfs any other feeling. Again weird, but strangely exhilarating, in the same way you cannot stop staring at a street fight.
However the album is not completely tangential. It is not completely the ‘new The Clean’. For in tracks such as the superlative e-Motel and Crazy (see below for the re-issued 2016 track) the band reverts to previously acquired love of aggressively strummed and plunked melodies of the previous Unknown Country (1996) album that have that angry essence of The Woodentops / The Feelies. It may not be as weird as the remainder of the album but these tracks are equally as compelling.
In general this album was and arguably remains, The Clean at their most raw, rough, weird and compelling. It could almost be described as them trying to shed the skin of all things Dunedin. Thankfully the foundation of their sound, especially the vocals, is so synonymous with the creation of the Dunedin Sound that this album, despite their best efforts, still ranks up their with the best the genre has to offer.
After well over 15 years this album is still as essential as the day it was released.
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