The Clientele

God Save the Clientele

(Merge; 2007)

By Peter Hepburn | 11 May 2007

You know the real danger of making a fantastic record? (Aside from the inevitable slew of British bands that will queue up to cop your style?) Following it up is a bitch. A slump--sophomore or otherwise--hurts, and it's only the most dedicated, talented of bands that can avoid it. I've been burned many times before, so as excited as I was for the Clientele's third LP, I was also worried that they'd simply be unable to follow up a record as thoroughly excellent as Strange Geometry (2005). It's not that Geometry was a fluke--both The Violet Hour (2003) and Suburban Light (2000) attest to Alasdair MacLean's songwriting talent--but following up a record that so perfectly captured quiet melancholy, beauty, and youthful alienation is a tricky proposition, no matter how talented the band. God Save the Clientele proves that I need not have worried: it cements the Clientele as one of the best pop bands around today.

The key here is that the band doesn't try to recreate their last record. Sure, they're still purveyors of dreamy psych-pop, and the whole thing feels reverb-soaked and sepia-toned, but they've let their hair down and aren't afraid to have a bit of fun. From the get-go, the band makes clear that this is not Geometry Pt. 2: "Here Comes the Phantom" is all April sunshine and perfect pop choruses; there's still a tinge of loneliness to the song, but MacLean isn't really the sad-sack that we've come to love. Consider the next two songs as confirmation: the reflective lyrics of "I Hope I Know You" are buoyed by ebullient choruses, and the gorgeous "Isn't Life Strange?" is more pretty than sad.

Recording with Lambchop's Mark Nevers, the band have also managed to get their best production to date. With the inaudible spoken-word of "The Dance of The Hours" they get a chance to play with texture and sound more than on previous releases. For those of us who loved "Losing Haringey" off Geometry it's a shame not to actually be able to make out what MacLean is talking about (it's in the lyrics book -- buy the album), but it's a pleasant song nonetheless. They get a chance to play around with these ideas elsewhere: the rich choruses of "I Hope I Know You" and instrumental flourishes of album highlight "No Dreams Last Night" both benefit from Neyers' sterling production.

God Bless the Clientele doesn't quite hold together in the way that Strange Geometry did, but again, that's probably for the best. The record is less focused, which allows the band to squeeze in surprises like rock freak-out "The Garden at Night," and even a quasi-disco number "Bookshop Cassanova," which somehow out-feys Belle & Sebastian's "Your Cover's Blown" in the indie-bands-playing-disco-songs-about-books category. The pacing of the record still works quite well though, especially on middle section of this album from the lovely "From Brighton Beach to Santa Monica" through the equally stunning "These Days Nothing but Sunshine." A few of the songs in the last half do have a way of melting into one another, but for the most part this is another solid set of pop songs from the Clientele. It shows the band both moving forward, and should be the album that finally starts to bring them proper recognition. We'll see what actually happens and how much success they manage (at an excellent show in Washington, DC last week there weren't more than 150 people in the audience), but here's to hoping that such quality and consistency is rewarded.