I shouldn’t like The Clientele, truthfully. They invoke bands I flat-out dislike, like Big Star and the Monkees, or bands so pimped by history I can’t form an objective opinion, like the Beatles. Their singer’s name looks horribly misspelled. Furthermore, that warbling, whistle-friendly sort of stoner pop, if there is such a thing, only makes me think of fall, and I’d prefer more than one of the four seasons to be mastered, thank you. But: I really like The Clientele. God Save The Clientele, their third record, nudges your knees like some ridiculous dog you don’t have the heart to get rid of. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it’s anything but.
Another way of professing my like would be to point out God Save The Clientele‘s faint similarities to one iconic record, the Beatles’ White Album, and by extension to another iconic record, Radiohead’s OK Computer. Given that a lot of folks don’t believe OK Computer owes anything at all to the White Album, added to which lots more folks would never buy The Clientele as ever being on about Radiohead, I won’t belabor it, except to say that the exquisite pop language of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” and “Sexy Sadie,” which “Subterranean Homesick Alien” and “Karma Police” reiterated, is also spoken here. In its trickling, muss-haired, agreeable way God Save The Clientele locates itself near the exact interchange of a warm fly-buzzed afternoon and a breezy evening complete with lightning bugs. Which may sound a lot like fall, but The Clientele are so good at overlapping moods they’re almost beyond seasons. Which, as they say, is good. (I’m not pretending that God Save The Clientele is anywhere near the level of the White Album or OK Computer, it’s just a dialectical comparison.)
Opener “Here Comes The Phantom” knocks along at optimal piano-speed, couched in strings and Alasdair MacLean’s typical wist: “my heart is playing like a violin,” etc. At times the reedy-voiced MacLean can sound like a ghostlier Lou Reed and when he’s talking about phantoms he works it impressively. He can also, when rousting out his favored ‘la-dee-da-da-da-da’ effect, as he does on “I Hope I Know You,” sound a bit demented, but that’s ok. “Isn’t Life Strange” has MacLean swapping his Telecaster for a Gretsch and accordingly, it would have been a very Monkee-lite song if it were a whit less good–as it is, MacLean gets crushingly moony-eyed (“isn’t life strange/you end up alone/you call up your folks/but there’s nobody home“) and the simplicity of that lyric knocks all theory of MacLean’s writing as unfocused, which I’ve heard before, into a cocked hat. Don’t be fooled by oddities like “The Dance Of The Hours” which may or may not have been inspired by a childhood encounter with a toy knight but employs nothing but whispers to that effect. MacLean may dabble in a personal mythology that’s every bit as inscrutable as, say, Isaac Brock’s, but he also has a keen sense of when not to turn a phrase, and go for broke on the truism. (Speaking of Isaac Brock, “Bookshop Casanova” could be a later-period Modest Mouse track, but I digress.) At any rate, MacLean can write a pop song.
God Save The Clientele also features appearances by Lambchop’s Tony Crow, Lupe Nunez-Fernandez from Pipas, and Pat Sansone of The Autumn Defence and Wilco. Sansone plays often enough to be an honorary member of the band, which already gained an additional member, multi-instrumentalist Mel Draisey. Cameos aside, The Clientele have made themselves into a richer, fuller outfit, and I like them in spite of all my personal reasons not to.
MP3: “Bookshop Casanova”