Clem Snide – The Meat of Life

This, a little like Eels’ last album, is going to be a slightly difficult one for me to review, because my relationship with The Meat of Life is about my relationship with an entire back catalogue and the last ten years of my life, rather than just my relationship to a single album of new Clem Snide songs.

Musically, Clem Snide pretty much stopped surprising me with End of Love, back in 2005 or so.  That was a great album, but it wasn’t particularly varied in texture, and took me a long time to get into.  Eef Barzelay’s phenomenal solo debut, Bitter Honey, stripped everything back to the barest of bones, but his follow up, and subsequent Clem Snide stuff has been very uniform of pace and mood.

That sounds like a criticism, and I suppose it is, in the sense that I can’t imagine someone who is new to Clem Snide being as excited by this album as I was by Your Favourite Music and Ghost of Fashion.  Given that it’s not exactly riff- or hook-heavy music, which is the most common fall-back position for bands with a very straightforward sound, you could be forgiven for finding their recent stuff a bit stodgy and lacking in a certain spark, I suppose.

That probably sounds like an almighty slagging off to deliver about an album which I actually like an awful lot, but I suppose I’m just trying to say this: I can understand people finding this musically very plain vanilla, and in a sense I would agree, but that’s not really why I think Clem Snide have been one of the best bands on the planet for the last ten years, and why I go back again and again to listen to their music.

It’s not just the obvious stuff: that the lyrics are fucking brilliant.  Barzelay does have an inspired way with the language – cutting and sympathetic at the same time; devastated and yet bitterly amused; vulnerable and defiant – but I think it might be the actual delivery which does it for me.  Because for all the music may not offer a lot of innovation in the way it is put together, it does put across the emotion of the songwriting with tremendous impact.  I don’t know many bands who can make you feel what they are feeling with anything like the clarity and compulsion of Clem Snide.

Songs like BFF, Denver and Please are as good as anything these guys have written, and Song For Mary, for all it sounds like a song they’re already recorded half a dozen times already, still has that ability to take exactly what the song is trying to express and just embed it directly into your psyche.  There may be a couple of songs on this which I’m not so keen on, and particularly if you’re new to the band it may take you a while to get into, but this really is a very good record.

Clem Snide – Denise
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/ClemSnide-Denise.mp3]

Clem Snide – Denver
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/ClemSnide-Denver.mp3]

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