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Clem Snide | The Ghost Of Fashion (Cooking Vinyl/SpinArt)
For those appetites whetted by the wry wordplay and cool demeanor of 'Your Favourite Music' (released earlier this year), 'TGOF' should serve as the welcome main course. A languorous, witty travelogue through the middle class American psyche, saturated in puns and pop culture references, the album presents a far more rounded artifact than its predecessor. Let's Explode chugs amidst a burst of horns and guitars, Eef Barzelay's knowing voice proclaiming "A peacock died to color my lips." The song introduces the theme of the album, concerning itself with the surface reality of the glamour culture, its amorality and pettiness, reaching a crescendo which has Barzelay repeating "I don't want to know me better" as if it was the worst thing he could think of. There's been a great leap forward since their last album, utilising a more expansive sound with horn and brass sections adorning most of the tracks here. That the Clems sometimes fall into the very thing that they're criticising is perhaps just an occupational hazard though, as on previous records, they do have a tendency to occasionally sound smug and pretentious. You sometimes feel that a whole song has been written around a singular lyric conceit and the thrill of the ironic wears quickly. The eminently whistleable first single Ice Cube (not, unfortunately, about Amerikkka's Most Wanted) is a good example; all surface and hook with not much going on underneath. But then they confound you and come up with a great line ("Like a pigeon choking on a diamond ring") or a wonderful piece of music (the majestic, funereal horn intro to Don't Be Afraid Of Your Anger which sounds like The Band on 'Rock of Ages'). That same song neatly mutates into a swinging country shuffle that lays into the self-help culture with suitable aplomb. Two songs make this album an essential purchase: the crackly, almost a-cappella, The Curse Of Great Beauty and the incredible Joan Jett Of Arc - not only one of the best titles of the year but one of the great songs too. Over a dead slow rhythm, Barzelay's voice comes across filled with yearning and loss, singing about a childhood sweetheart lost in the wastes of time. The lyric references to Hall & Oates, Sizzler and Roller Rinks create a dense, resonant fabric, setting the song in a particular era, equaled only by Joel R.L. Phelps similarly tormented Now You Are Found - a moving, astonishing song that makes up for the more whimsical stuff on offer here. The sound of a band finding their feet, playing with their sound, expanding outwards and inwards - this should be a must have for anyone into slow, low and lonely songs that haven't yet been amputated of their humour.

Stav Sherez
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002

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