Strange Geometry In The Straight World
There’s a line in the penultimate track on the Clientele’s Strange Geometry album (the spoken word ‘Losing Haringey’) that talks about a feeling of 1982-ness. Vocalist and guitarist Alasdair McLean goes on to define this further as being about feeling “dizzy, illogical” and being about “school, the memory of shopping malls, cooking and driving in my mother’s car.” He talks about being “inconsolably sad” that these things are “all gone, gone forever.” For me it’s a key moment in a key song in a key record, and I keep coming back to it again and again. I understand instinctively what my namesake is getting at. It’s the essence of great Pop, after all: that sense of refining memories and the essence of moments into a concrete form, the beauty of which is that, as music, even recorded music, that concrete moment itself is never wholly motionless; is always moving and changing subtly with time and context.

And this is, in effect, what I love most about The Clientele; is why I have always felt myself drawn inexorably to their perfectly poised baroque Pop. They are the band who, more than any other contemporary artist, understand instinctively and explicitly the nature of how to sculpt language and sound into events of evocative, divine (and often misty, dark) pleasure. They are helped in this on Strange Geometry by the collaboration of Louis Philippe on string arrangements that step softly into the light and shuffle deftly back into the shadows in an eerily seductive ebb and flow. The strings wrap themselves like red velvet and pale mauve lace around guitar parts that sparkle with the quality of Deebank or Verlaine filigree, all the while backed by a perfectly restrained rhythm section. It makes for a series of breathtaking experiences, like on the opening Pop masterpiece of recent single ‘Since K Got Over Me’, the deliciously yearning ‘(I Can’t Seem) To Make You Mine’ or the exquisite closing trilogy of ‘Step Into The Light’, the aforementioned ‘Losing Haringey’ and ‘Six Of Spades.’

Please trust me when I say that The Clientele are the most eloquently artful band in the UK right now, and trust me too that to say as much is not to suggest that they are in any way ‘difficult’ or obtuse. It infuriates me the way intelligence is so often seen as being the enemy of Art, particularly in the context of Pop culture. Then again, maybe it’s just the enemy of Rock, and maybe that’s okay. Except really it’s not okay, because there are fleeting moments on Strange Geometry when The Clientele show their mettle and bare their teeth, and (in live performance especially) Mclean can wring some of the most outrageously elegant and dirtily elegiac noises from his guitar that most Rock Guitar Gods would kill for. It’s just that it’s done in such a marvellously restrained manner, with the inherent tension of that restraint adding immeasurably to the pleasure.

Ultimately, though, The Clientele make sweet suburban sounds that aren’t afraid of showing off the results of a decent education (and no, I don’t mean necessarily going to University, I just mean reading books and having a thirst for knowledge) and middle class mores, and maybe that, more than anything else, is why the UK indie yob media insists on ignoring them in favour of more obvious terrace culture idiots. It’s a sin, but there it is. Hopefully they’ll prove me wrong and will all make Strange Geometry the Album of The Year it most assuredly is. I know its top of my pile.
Now, coincidentally, I had the pleasure of seeing The Clientele play a show recently in Bush Hall in London to launch their Strange Geometry album. They played a blindingly magnificent set, resplendently bathed in a film projection like in some odd contemporary late ‘60s Happening. Support on the night came from the always delectable Pipas (Lupe Nunez later joined The Clientele on stage to recite the words to ‘Losing Haringey’), and it struck me at a few moments during their charming set that in many ways they are like Young Marble Giants. Certainly they are similar in that where some see charm others see ineptitude, that where some hear sparse melody others hear brittle bum notes. This is fine. This is, in many ways, how it should be.

I was surprised though to hear that my friend Rupert had so hated the Young Marble Giants' Live At The Hurrah album on Cherry Red. He has generally such an ear for the early ‘80s post-punk material, even if that ear might on occasion lean too favourably to the prog-infected angles. He admitted that he had been somewhat confused and had been expecting to hear The Gist, but even so, I personally don’t understand how expecting The Gist and hearing Young Marble Giants could leave anyone less than delighted. And personally I adore the album in question.

Then again, Young Marble Giants were something of an important part of my formative years. Their Colossal Youth album was, alongside Weekend’s La Variete (I came late to music really, and admittedly went backwards from Weekend to investigate YMG), The Marine Girls’ Beach Party and Tracey Thorn’s A Distant Shore one of THE essential soundtracks to the crucial summer of 1983. It was the summer upon which my entire life turned most immeasurably for the first time, so it’s maybe no surprise that those records should have had such a lasting effect on me. Even so, I still think that if I were to hear this live set for the first time today I would be astonished and would fall head over heels in love with the pared down, understated brilliantine sound emanating from the stereo. And really, like The Clientele, Young Marble Giants were a quiet triumph of intelligence and restraint over idiotic noise and bluster and should be celebrated as much for that as for anything else. If you know the magic of YMG and haven’t yet checked out the album, I urge you to do so now. And if you don’t yet know the magic of YMG then I envy you that delight of falling in love.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett