Not so much a new album as a collection of offcuts, but you won’t be surprised to learn that I think the Clientele’s offcuts are better than most groups’ best. Minotaur gives you a quick romp through many previously encountered Clientele touchstones: symbolism; the Verlaines at one remove (it’s impossible to think that Alasdair didn’t have their ‘Death and the maiden’ in mind on writing his own far jauntier tribute to Paul Verlaine); the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band; instrumental Felt or Satie or Chopin or possibly all three; the supernatural and myth and legend. It also shows that I was off target with my concluding assessment that Bonfires on the heath displayed signs of the Clientele running out of both ideas and steam, for all of these songs were recorded alongside those that made it onto the album, and were I suspect left off largely for thematic reasons rather than owing to any lack of quality.
Leading off is the title track, written from the perspective of the minotaur waiting in the labyrinth for Theseus to come, which is a lovely conceit, though of course if Alasdair really does feel like the minotaur, that’s maybe not so good. But I guess we all do, at times. Well, I do. In contrast, the music is the Clientele at their crystalline best, acoustic picking and sighing violins as the clear water pattering and burbling over the bedrock of bass and drums underneath.
‘As the world rises and falls’ slurs and drones its sweetly weary way, five minutes of backwards West Coast freewheeling. ‘No. 33’ shows a career in film music awaits Mark Keen after he boxes and shelves his Clientele drumsticks. ‘The Green Man’ is follow-up or companion piece to ‘Losing Haringey’; Alasdair’s narration dwells impressively on dust, though not, I think, the same dust around which Philip Pullman built His dark materials.
And old-time live favourite ‘Jerry’ finally makes it to the status of official release. An oddity in the Clientele repertoire, it’s been a problem song to record. On early hearings it seemed impressively like a juggernaut colliding with a dainty sports car; when Alasdair felt he was up against it, he played ‘Jerry’’s guitar like he really wished it was an audience-killing machine-gun. But it’s impossible to get quite that level of attack in a recording studio, quite the level of contrast that used to stun their audience. They’ve done their best though.
So it’s a Clientele chocolate box assortment, and I’ll happily eat most, leaving a couple till last; ‘Strange town’ and ‘Nothing here is what it seems’ are the orange crème and Turkish Delight respectively.
- The Clientele – Jerry (via Stereogum)