he Clientele have been associated, whether correctly or not, with most of 20th century poetry. Their lyrics, intimate and a touch ominous, and their presentation, wistful, wry, lend themselves to an audience of, as lead singer Alasdair MacLean once put it, “graduate students with their poetry books.” He may have been comparing himself to label mates Spoon, (whose fans he conversely described as “girls just looking to dance”) but still, it’s a big cavern to get placed into.
Strange Geometry, is poetic, but sharper than previous efforts. Don’t think of T.S. Eliot. If the poetry analogy must continue, Phillip Larkin and his tight, emotionally conflicted stanzas now make a fair comparison. Their second proper full-length grabs a hold of the band’s enduring themes: relationship catharsis through metaphysics, the intersection of natural and the human world in modern England and gives it a nice shot of strong, thorough vocals and a tighter, gem-cut production.
Because of that production, we finally get to see what the Clientele is really about. The change from the fuzzy, ultra-dreamy sound of their earlier work to this defined, sleek form? It’s like someone you know losing a speech impediment. You can finally hear what they’re saying, not just how they say it.
Suddenly the Clientele’s lyrics are quite impressive, often times frightening, “All my senses sharp / My hands are fists / I’m pretty tired of making lists,” and at other moments surprisingly stoner, “like the sea inside a shell / Everything speaks to itself.” Underscoring the band’s lyrics isn’t a necessity, they’re largely the same as the ones previous, but revisiting them in Geometery’s tonal context really does give a better sense of the lines, line breaks and just how the words separate themselves from the music.
The backbone of their sound—murmured, wistful lyrics, taut yet velveteen guitar lines, and soft, soft drums—only gets bolder under the new layer of polish. What emerges is a wonderful juxtaposition of this band’s memorable strengths and nice dashes of creativity. The furious bridge of Zombies guitar freak-out on “E.M.P.T.Y.” is a total blast of oxygen.
Integrating, or at the very least amalgamating, the earnest and the mournful, Geometry visually constructs an appropriate environment: MacLean longingly details dreamy landscape shifts (“streetlamps fuse the rising night / I feel so far away”) without losing his affectionate portrayal of London’s leafy suburban corners. In fact, the whole record is quite literally sub-urban. The words and music seem removed from the city. Not completely different and rural, but definitely a few notch apart from the effort and grime of the urban. Drummer Mark Keen, even at the most manic moments, never really hammers down on his kit like he could. Bassist James Hornsey never loses control of the delicate flex of his lines. The restraint the whole band shows, on this, their most finished and instantly effective album, becomes something more than respectable: the Clientele’s commitment to their own sound has crystallized into something almost wonderful.