When Clearlake‘s debut album, Lido, was released in April 2001, it won them a wide variety of influential friends, including the NME, Jarvis Cocker and BBC Radio 1’s Mark And Lard. It didn’t do that much commercially, yet it’s mix of wilful experimentation and undoubted commercialism ensured the band a healthy cult following.
Now the Hove-based band have returned with their follow up. As the public seems more willing to accept left-field rock with a quirky edge – after all, this is the year that The Flaming Lips made their much deserved breakthrough – Cedars should put in a much stronger performance.
At first listen, it’s difficult to distinguish Clearlake from any other run of the mill generic indie band. From Jason Pegg’s Morrissey-like vocals, to the inner sleeve photograph of the band glowering in duffel coats and scarfs, it’s difficult to shake the impression of Radiohead-lite. However, where Clearlake really stand out from the crowd is in their startlingly original songs and a very English sensibility which is evident throughout the album. An atmospheric production from Simon Raymonde, of the much missed Cocteau Twins, certainly doesn’t hinder matters either.
The first single, Almost The Same, has been described by Pegg as “probably the most clear-cut song on the album”, and that’s a fair summation. A pretty straight-forward declaration of love set to a pounding drumbeat and some incendiary guitars, it grabs the listener and refuses to let go. Pegg not only shares a vocal style with Morrissey, but there’s a lyrical similarity to the great man here as well. Pegg looks at the humdrum in life (such as wondering whether snow will settle on the ground) and turns them into anthemic, glorious statements of intent.
There’s also a slightly sinister edge to some of the songs on display here, most notably I’d Like To Hurt You, which is pretty much self-explanatory. The Mind Is Evil too, has a rather unsettling quality to it, the queasy string section reminiscent of some of PJ Harvey‘s more disquieting moments. It’s not just relationships that feeds Pegg’s anger – indeed Wonder If The Snow Will Settle belongs with JJ72‘s Snow in the list of great songs written about the British weather.
It’s not all angst and anger though. Keep Smiling has a resigned quality to it that brings to mind some of Blur‘s more reflective moments. Treat Yourself With Kindness has some genuinely touching lyrics (“I see you treat yourself in ways you’d never treat another… try your best to treat yourself with a just a bit of kindness”) and Trees In The City makes for a suitably uplifting valedictory statement.
Perhaps not everyone will take to Clearlake – It’s All Too Much is probably a little too doom-laden for some – but overall this is a superb sophomore effort. This year’s Doves? Don’t bet against them.