School Sucks
Surviving it all with The Clientele

Approaching Norman Foster's bridge across the Thames I spy some words chalked on the side of a stairway. ´school sucks'. I laugh to myself and wholeheartedly concur. School does indeed suck. School sucks so much it almost made me miss out on one of my favourite groups of the past six years.

Records that arrive in term time invariably get a raw deal. I just never have the time to listen to them properly, never have the opportunity to allow them the time they need to bloom. They get short shrift, too often consigned to the pile of ´yeah okay, whatever'. So it was the first time I heard the Clientele.

It was a single that came in a black and white sleeve and that called itself ´All The Dust and Glass'. I played it once and shrugged. I thought it sounded like flimsy fey indiepop. Yeah, okay, whatever.

Several months later, and I put it on a minidisk for a holiday in France. I don't remember why. It shared space at the end of ABC's Lexicon of Love and nestled beside the Associates' exquisite ´Breakfast'. I listened to it a lot that week, and by the end it sounded like the most divine sound imaginable. The Clientele had been given the space to blossom in my heart. We've never looked back.

The Clientele do things right. The Clientele understand the essence of Pop and the beauty of the single, which of course is two ways of saying the same thing. With a series of mouth-watering morsels released on a variety of international labels over the space of five years The Clientele created a series of memorable moments that rank with the best by anyone anytime. Collected as Suburban Light, they naturally made one of the finest debut albums ever.

Some might call their latest collection The Violet Hour their ´real' debut album, but it's just a question of interpretation. What is not in question that it sounds even better than Suburban Light. Recorded on an assortment of occasionally exploding ancient analogue equipment in a Finsbury Park basement, The Violet Hour sounds like something transported from a parallel universe; a universe where Love are feted more highly than the Rolling Stones and Galaxie 500 were the biggest band of the 1990s. It's all uniformly restrained; perfectly executed mildly psychedelic vignettes of suburban life; the sound of French films (blurred), or American indie-films, if you want to put a Sportique slant on proceedings.

Like all great Pop groups the Clientele are wonderfully schizophrenic, their live and studio sounds each a perfectly formed refraction of the other, coalescing to create a magnificent whole. Live they are altogether a more dynamic prospect than their records might suggest, with episodes of gyrating beatnoise inserted into their suburban pop daydreams; a slab of Hellfire Sermons syncopation slips into the mix alongside moments that recall no less than Television (you know what I mean: it's when guitars sound like police sirens getting ever closer, when Verlaine and Lloyd start to leave the planet for the outer reaches of the stratosphere). Or maybe it's the sound of Orange Juice when they were in their Ostrich Churchyard, all razor sharp edges on songs of soaraway Pop perfection. Whatever it sounds like, it sounds like heaven.

Of course school still sucks, but I don't care. I've got the Clientele to help me through.

© 2003 Alistair Fitchett