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Clem Snide | The Ghost Of Fashion (Spinart/Cooking Vinyl)
It can't be easy being Eef Barzelay. People must think you're that guy from the Eels, or that your name actually is Clem Snide. Undeterred, Eef puts these things aside and gets down to what he's good at, crafting fine music from unorthodox instrumentation and mixing in lyrics that would make Woody Allen sound positive. Let's Explode does with a lament that "love is only for the lovely" while the band seem to be playing different songs as if to compound his misery. Long Lost Twin has delightful bursts of brass and Hawaiian guitars in an attempt to cheer up our hero who feels like "Elvis longing for his" sibling of the title, until it all breaks down so all he can admit is "sometimes I wish I was never born." Here is part of Eef's gift, turning amusing and quirky lyrics not only on their head, but inside out and every other way too. Laugh one minute, sob the next. Not only does he write a nifty verse, but also he has a fine musical mind. Listen to what's going on behind him and you'll hear some wonderful work, part Neutral Milk Hotel, Penguin Café Orchestra, Yo La Tengo and even Lullaby For The Working Class, but still original enough to stand out. Then, just as you're getting into not knowing what comes next, there's a masterpiece. Moment In The Sun opens innocuously, tries to build, falls down, gets up and then goes crazy amid a flailing drum and sax frenzy that crashes to earth. The dust clears and The Curse Of Great Beauty emerges in a segue that will make you sigh. Eef's voice is plaintive above scratches and gentle noodling and it's a truly inspired moment. As you sit slumped, head bowed by this Joan Jett Of Arc sidles in seamlessly. Not the lightweight song the title suggests, but a heartfelt ballad that is genuinely touching. These three make a sequence that most would kill for and is well worth the cost alone. There are more ups and downs towards the finale with Ancient Chinese Secret Blues being very fragile next to the brash The Junky Jews and the oddness of The Ballad Of Unzer Charlie, all showing that the titles give no clue to what's within. Ending like it started, coming full circle, No One's More Happy Than You has discordant instruments and wailing vocals, including the wonderful observation that "even the sky's feeling blue" in comparison. Get this and make the sea green with envy.

Laurence Arnold
October 2001