The Clean – Mister Pop (Merge)
At the rate in which The Clean release albums, it’s perfectly understandable if you happen to just stumble into them. Vehicle is where I first started—a reunion album that also served as their true debut, albeit one that arrived a full twelve years after the band first started.
As you can see, The Clean didn’t appear to take show business very seriously and they could easily be on the short list of bands that didn’t fulfill their expectations.
And they’re probably cool with that.
The thing about The Clean is how their take on rock music is a direct line from America’s own rock pioneers. While you won’t mistake The Clean for “Johnny B. Goode” or “Summertime Blues,” you get the sense that their origin came from hearing a tune and then deciding to pick up an instrument to “get real gone” as Elvis said.
Not too long after gettin’ gone, The Clean whipped up a few original songs and they got the attention of Roger Shepherd. He was such a fan that he started up a record company with the sole purpose of being able to release original music like The Clean and other bands in the Christchurch area. His label, Flying Nun, put a single by the band The Pin Group and followed it with a single from The Clean called “Tally Ho!”
That first Clean single became a top 20 hit in New Zealand and inspired other band to pick up their own instruments to give it a go themselves.
You’d have to go back to the first decade of rock and roll to find similar results in America. For The Clean, this was all around the early ’80s. A time when bands of similar independent ilk here in the states were segregated to low wattage college stations and CMJ playlists. Imagine if those playlists and those left-of-the-dial outlets were the true hits and hitmakers.
You now have a better understanding of how cool New Zealand must have been during this time and how important The Clean was in turning a passion into a nationally recognized art form.
Ponder this while you’re on your way to pick up The Clean’s Anthology, a must-have compilation released in ’03. It features virtually everything you’d ever need to stumble into the band’s magic jangle and infectious minimalism.
Throughout the band’s now three-decade long career, they’ve seldom strayed from an endless pool of songs that’s close to the Velvets‘ most accessible moments with a big dash of mid-era Beatles thrown in.
Mister Pop, the band’s first album since Anthology, contains a few tracks that would fit nicely on that compilation with a few moments of renewed inspiration that differ from the band’s more reliable sources of inspiration. Most notable is “Tensile,” a wonderful burst of Krautrock, extolling how “the road is somewhere to hide” over an Autobahn vocoder. The runner-up is a slice of John Cale-viola swirl called “Moonjumper,” maybe the closet song the band has ever gotten to V.U. territory while managing to sound so perfectly unique, thanks in part to the near psychedelic jig the band straddles by the end of the song.
And then there’s the obligatory Beatles nod, “In The Dreamlife You Need A Rubber Soul,” a three-and-a-half minute ode to getting away from your everyday rut with dreams; the ones that sometimes only last three-and-a-half minutes and yet manage to get you through an eight hour day.
I feel the need to point out that Mister Pop is only the fifth proper full-length in the band’s 30-year career. This again, points you to the direction of Anthology to start with as it gleans the best tracks from those previous four albums and an even large assortment from the band’s legendary Flying Nun singles and EPs.
I say this because Mister Pop makes no attempt at trying to win over any novices to the band; it’s a half-hour collection of brief moments of greatness and an even larger assortment of by-the-numbers material that The Clean probably pulls off at every rehearsal. Maybe that’s why it will probably end up on my own year-end best of list: there’s something wonderfully refreshing about their ambivalence, but more importantly, there’s something wonderfully good about it too.