You could never accuse Alex Clare of not trying out a different style or three. The Lateness Of The Hour, which draws on the producing talents of Diplo and Switch, is a commendably ambitious record, drawing on the rich heritage of styles available to the ears of a London songwriter. But is it possible to cram a whole heap of divergent styles together and emerge with your identity intact?
Not fully, it turns out – though it’s not for the wont of trying, and not in any of these styles does Clare come up severely short. If anything, though it’s in the songs where he isn’t obviously trying that he makes more of an emotional impact.
Relax My Beloved, for example, shows off his voice as a husky, soulful instrument with its heartfelt plea, shot dead by a razor sharp synth of dubstep connotations. Treading Water is more gentle and reflective, until the quick break beats come in and stamp their mark over the previously keen emotions. “Can you forgive the things I do that I can’t amend?” he sings.
This is the tension at the heart of Clare’s work, with his outpourings often blighted by beats that seem all too eager to get their subjects into the middle of the dancefloor. For peak time action he is best off sticking to the single Up All Night, a mixture of boasting and self-reproachment. Catchy, uplifting and with a summery, push me pull you rhythm, it kicks off the album in extravert style.
Songs like Hummingbird, however, have a more serious and powerful impact, reinforcing the view that the tracks carrying more weight emotionally are the more restrained ones. Tightrope has little more than a bass drum and high hat for company, but the husky voice makes it through and its sentiments are clear.
Clare could, then, be accused of trying too hard, and of being difficult to pin down as an artist stylistically. Is it dubstep? In parts. Is it soulful? When it wants to be. But perhaps the most crucial question is whether it shows potential or not – and happily for Clare the answer is affirmative. With a little more focus and a natural approach, he could find himself a unique voice that sits outside of the styles he is trying to embrace.