Aside from grunge, the music that best defined the 90s was Britpop. We all loved Blur and Pulp. We all loved to hate the Gallaghers. And we all got impatient waiting for Elastica to release their second album. Face it, once you get past “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Everybody Hurts,” the most memorable singles of the decade were from British bands: “Wonderwall,” “Common People,” “Girls and Boys,” “Alright,” “Connection,” “Bittersweet Symphony,” and “Jack Names the Planets.”
Lately Britpop has had a bit of a resurgence in bands that all seem to cull from the same resources — namely Radiohead, U2 and Jeff Buckley. There are some oddball exceptions like Muse and the Cooper Temple Clause that owe more to Queen and Pink Floyd. But few current British bands have been able to recreate the infectiousness and wit of the Blur vs. Oasis era. So it’s refreshing to hear a band like Clearlake, who possess a keen gift for classic British songwriting, but utilize richer textures and darker themes than their early 90s counterparts did.
The music on Cedars, the Hove band’s sophomore album, is as hauntingly beautiful and charmingly unsettling as its sylvan album art. Like all UK greats before them, Clearlake are a glum sort, crafting music that’s clever but melancholy, providing a fitting soundtrack to the Square Mile’s year-round fog. Yet the band’s own seaside town may have played a large part in crafting the album, as imagery of weather and the sea come to play frequently in Jason Pegg’s lyrics.
Musically, the band is all over Great Britain’s map. On the chugging opener, “Almost the Same,” the band combines a 4AD-worthy ethereality with a Clash-like intensity. “Can’t Feel a Thing” and “Come Into the Darkness” are pummeling rock anthems and “Just Off the Coast” is rich, soulful British blues, much more convincing than Reef ever was. Don’t remember them do you? Moving on.
Pegg creates contrasting Jekyll/Hyde tones with his lyrics, teetering between reluctant misanthropy and starry-eyed hopefulness. In “The Mind is Evil,” Pegg sings “no one is heartless that I’ve ever known” before adding “it makes me do all those unspeakable things.” The cabaret-esque “I’d Like to Hurt You,” sees Pegg singing from a delightfully deranged perspective, crooning, “I wouldn’t hurt a fly/But I’d really like to punish you/D’you want to know why?/’cos I don’t have a good excuse.” The theatrical alternating misery and misanthropy brings to mind a young Morrissey, though Pegg hasn’t achieved the Moz’s level of maniacal fan-obsession status.
Clearlake is the brightest hope for Hove in 2003. Coldplay can only keep playing bigger stadiums, Muse will only get weirder and Elbow can only become even more mediocre. It’s a good thing Clearlake came along or we’d have to replace our Anglophilia with an obsession with Wales. And I hate to say it, but I’m not that big on Tom Jones.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.