THE CLEAN “ANTHOLOGY”….
Best reissue of 2003 so far would have to be the 2-CD Anthology
from “New Zealand sound” standard-bearers THE CLEAN
, just out on US label Merge Records
. This is a big boost for those who may have missed the somewhat difficult-to-find Compilation
from 15 or so years ago, as well as far those unacquainted with the absolute best kiwi space fuzz-pop trio ever. It’s a terrific package – one disc of the early 1980-82 stuff, and a second disc of their reunion material from 1989-96. I saw them play a bunch of this stuff live on their US tour 18 months ago and it was so well done I though I’d stumbled into the Canterbury University Social Club circa 1981. People who fall for the 80s/90s New Zealand/Flying Nun bands tend to wax rhapsodic about them in a manner akin to speaking in tongues. While I certainly enjoy the stuff, I never saw the individual bands as interchangeable, despite the similarities in sound (think soaring, distorted, often keyboard-heavy pop played with a wink of knowing naiveté). Tall Dwarfs
were excellent, as was/is solo Chris Knox
. The Chills
? The Verlaines
? Sure, whatever. It’s fine. There were plenty of NZ bands creating bizarre inner worlds of pop-rooted sound outside the brackets of the Flying Nun mafia who were arguably far more inventive – Bill Direen & The Builders
, Shoes This High
and the Victor Dimisich Band
for instance – I say arguably
because you can bet I’ll be the one doing the arguing very soon, right here on this web site! That’s what I’m here for, folks.
Anyway, The Clean
. Disc one is truly an anthology aimed at us completists – you get the debut “Tally Ho / Platypus” 45
(which was an actual charting hit in New Zealand), the “Boodle Boodle Boodle” EP
, the “Great Sounds Great…” EP
, the “Getting Older / Scrap Music / Whatever I Do Is Right” 45
, and another five tracks – every last one of them a testament to a truly unique and groundbreaking band. For these 3 years The Clean wrote one classic song after another, informed as much by 60s pop and the Velvet Underground
as their own vision, without any direct copping of riffs & chops. Tracks like “Beatnik” hum with a dense wash of Modern Lovers
-style keyboards and sing-songy vocals, while there are also edgier, somewhat darker instrumental numbers like “Fish” and “At The Bottom” that are a showcase for this trio’s ability to easily set the mood of their choosing. And the so-called “naiveté” – I don’t know, how can one not
find the ending of “Slug Song” charming, where vocalist/guitarist David Kilgour announces “goodbye” to the studio as the song fades? Excellent stuff. Disc two is still the same band, but a few years removed from their classic era – it’s pretty good Olympia/Slumberland-style pop, but their edge has been dulled and I’m afraid nothing particularly jumps out (I had the same reaction when I heard the comeback album Vehicle
upon its release). Who knows, you might find this stuff to be superior – they’re certainly still catchy enough to be someone’s favorite band. Obviously they can make it sound great live. Kudos to the band and to Merge for putting together the perfect overview.