Plumbiferous Media

Bonfires on the Heath – The Clientele

Oct 11th 2009
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Bonfires on the Heath - The ClienteleThe Clientele
Bonfires on the Heath
Score: 39

The Clientele, a four-member band from London, was formed in 1991 but only released its first CD nine years later with the singles compilation Suburban Light (its first LP, Violet Light came three years later). A peculiar blend of indie-pop, The Clientele’s music has been noted for its surreal tone and melancholy sound. However, their newest album, Bonfires on the Heath is not especially successful, largely due to The Clientele’s insistence on several rather ill-advised musical tendencies.

From an instrumental standpoint, Bonfires on the Heath is little more than a pile of used styles and chord progressions, although a few tracks do manage to distinguish themselves. “Sketch,” for example, plays with an interesting, solid background over which instruments play creative melodies. Unfortunately, the track is held back by strange dynamic levels which insist that the simple and repetitive (though solid) backdrop take foreground status while the melodies become barely audible side-lines. The other relatively active track, “I Know I’ll See Your Face,” is also quite noticeable, not only as it is one of few truly upbeat tracks on a generally slow album, but because of the unique brass parts, drum fills, and guitar solos.

However, unlike “Sketch,” “I Know I’ll See Your Face,” and a few others, most of the tracks are slow, generic, repetitive, and generally uninteresting. Chord progressions and overall sound alike feel overwhelmingly clichéd, and the efforts made to keep the album unique (for example, “I Wonder Who We Are” unexpectedly employs strings and brass) do not succeed.

Though Alasdair MacLean’s vocals do have an ethereal air to them, it’s not an especially unique air. Strongly evocative of 60s psychedelic rock, and largely due to The Clientele’s slightly questionable practice of running MacLean’s vocals through a guitar amp, this touch to MacLean’s voice lends something to The Clientele’s music. However, it’s not really something that manages to really distinguish the music. Instead, it prevents the music from ever really coming into its own, as it instead remains within its shapeless comfort zone. Additionally, the Clientele doesn’t quite manage to match MacLean’s voice to their oddly dreamy music (with the notable exception of “Share the Night”). All together, the vocals are not a well-composed or thought-out section of Bonfires on the Heath. They are, however, saved from mediocrity by a number of puzzling decisions which make them more confusing then dull.

Lyrically, Bonfires on the Heath is not especially notable. The Clientele relies heavily upon repetition of largely pointless lines (“Kids are jumping / Bonfires on the heath”), never quite managing to do anything but give MacLean something to sing. They’ve obviously tried to mimic the elegant surrealism of the bands they’re imitating – but lacking the creative genius of those groups, the lyrics come off as nonsensical mush.

Bonfires on the Heath has its strong moments and its weak moments. Unfortunately, the weak significantly outweigh the strong. Problems on the album range from ineffective vocals to over-repetition, and the only truly successful tracks are scattered rarely through the album. So, while The Clientele does make attempts to sway the listeners in its favor, it ultimately does not quite succeed.

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