The Clientele
The Violet Hour
Merge
2003
D



over the course of about three weeks, I have listened to The Clientele’s The Violet Hour approximately twenty-five times—while painting the door, while writing, while mowing the lawn, while riding my bicycle, while going to the bathroom ...—and yet, I cannot sing one line from this whole album from memory. For fifty minutes of supposed pop perfection ... I can’t even remember the hooks. I dunno. I think that’s a problem.


Well, that’s not entirely true. I can sing the part where dude goes "and I became cold" from the first song, just ‘cause it’s, well, the same vocal melody, over and over, the most obvious thing about this record—shit, that’s not true either. This entire album is one giant obvious "ha!" to the listener. Everything is in place. The obvious pop elements are hammered home one thousand times. Those ‘gorgeous’ harmonies and arpeggios that sprinkle, no, make up all of every song; that stupid fucking annoying high-hat tick-tick-tick; airy vocals; and shiny, glistening guitarwork. Even rudimentarily solid bass. But see, there’s no ... there’s no hooks! I resist saying this, and I’m probably wrong ... it’s elevator music. There’s no substance. It’s nothing.


The thing is, The Clientele maintain this sort of mentality throughout ... for fifty constant minutes of lots of twee jolly sounds sort of cobbled together, to create this haze of suppressed, pretend prettiness. There’s been lots of talk of this album being a “fog” or whatever. I don’t know anyone who enjoys being lost in the fog. It’s pretty disorienting, and you get all those nervous-nellie butterflies and you go Shit, where am I? and sometimes you pee your pants. Well, I guess that’d be cool if they pulled it off on this record, but there’s never that sense of wonder or a sense of being lost in a completely different world. The lead singer tries awful hard to make his voice quite airy and lifted, but he just kind of sounds like Stuart Murdoch for pussies.


All the sounds here that the band tries to induce - these light, mystical, high-pitched lilts - are found elsewhere in lots of other songs, most of them really great, like Ignite The Seven Cannons-era Felt or the Cocteau Twins/shoegazer business. It’s wonderful to be confused and bewildered with those artists - but here, it’s just annoying, and a nuisance. The instrumentation isn't cluttered or crashing into itself, like a giant jolly mess, a wonderful wash. Instead it is sparse and rammed together at the wrong times, at the most obvious times of all. The only thing “foggy” about this album is the fact that you can't remember how any of it goes. You find yourself wondering when the damned cloud will break.


What’s worse is that the band obviously knows what they’re doing ... so they try to sort of push themselves to do as much as they can, to add way more to their palette—within a pretty fucking boring picture. Ho ho, there’s violins! Steel guitar! Great. There are moments, though, that truly transcend the album, simply because, well, the band appears to lose the sense of direction for a bit. “Everybody’s Gone” ends with a baggy-style backwards guitar solo amidst the frail ... yearnings of crap ... and “Porcelain” builds up to a wonderful bass-led bridge straight out of some crazy club shit, and you know, it was really exciting for those seven seconds. It almost reminds of me of “Begging You” by The Stone Roses, and that’s a fantastic song. I love to dance, and I love to sing along to songs. Sometimes, when there’s no words, I like to bob my head politely. Or rudely. But I don’t like listening to boring music. Where are they going with this? Fucking nowhere.


Reviewed by: Sam Bloch
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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