If I knew nothing about The Clientele and just took a gander at that promo pic, I'd probably never bother listening to the band. But, as you well know, The Clientele are not some Smashing Pumpkins/JJ72 clone act as that pic might suggest to the cynical among us. No, they are pop classicists of the highest order and their finest moments have now been collected on Unreal and Alone: The Best of The Clientele, out Friday on Merge Records. The compilation makes a fair case for this being one of the finest, most consistent bands of the last 20 years.
Stuff like "Missing" would make a new fan think that this band were Simon and Garfunkel followers, and yet something like "Bookshop Casanova" immediately identifies them as worthy peers to contemporaries like Belle and Sebastian and Pulp, and not least because of that perfect song title. "Reflections After Jane" seems like the pairing up of The Velvet Underground and The Left Banke that never happened until now, while the sublime "The Queen of Seville" seems both a nod in the direction of worthy peers from the Sixties as well as the sort of chamber pop Luke Haines could have made a decade or so ago had he not been such a curmudgeon.
"On a Summer Trail" hints at an expansion of the act's signature sound as more complex instrumentation shows up. The cut, a gentle-but-rollicking cousin to the stuff on early Divine Comedy releases, is beautiful and a pretty good example of exactly what pop can be if the artists making it exercise a little care and attention.
Early copies of Unreal and Alone: The Best of The Clientele will come with The Sound of Young Basingstoke, a collection of recordings made earlier in the band's career. Sounding positively looser here, The Clientele charm with the near-folkisms of "Southern Way" and the baroque rock of "Wintertime" and its ilk. The Sound of Young Basingstoke closes with the superb "From a Window" which reveals Clientele leader Alasdair MacLean to be a far fiery guitarist than a lot of people give him credit for. Still, I think fans of this band know the guy's power with the instrument; I can attest to his skills having seen him sit in with Damon and Naomi a few years back.
If you have all the Clientele releases already, get this 'cause it's a convenient way to enjoy the band's stuff (again) and because it comes with The Sound of Young Basingstoke and you need that. Like Belle and Sebastian, The Clientele look to the past to create the songs of the future. That sounds corny but it takes real skill to make music like this, music that is both ornate and relatively straightforward, intimate and expansive.
Unreal and Alone: The Best of The Clientele and The Sound of Young Basingstoke by The Clientele are out on Friday via Merge Records.
Follow The Clientele via their official website.