Clem Snide – The Ghost of Fashion

Clem Snide
The Ghost of Fashion

Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay is a noteworthy songwriter for some really basic reasons: his word play borders on overly-clever but more often than not hits exactly the right tone; and his verses, choruses, and bridges flow nicely in and out of each other without feeling forced. On top of that, his band has enough musical ideas to keep you interested for an entire 50 minute album. He sure seems like a smart guy, but the songs aren’t overdone or snobbish. The Ghost of Fashion is a really stand-up album by a band that is beginning to enjoy more commercial success.
They leap right into things with “Let’s Explode.” Barzelay’s voice is the first thing you get; he drawls out the syllables as he sings “Love is only for the lovely and such a glamorous thing to waste.” He throws it out without any apologies. By the time he sings, “The highway is a ribbon that make a gift of everything,” on “Long Lost Twin,” the disc’s second song, you’re either hooked for the length of the album or ready to turn it off. That line can melt your heart, as can the next, “This sea of tail lights that we all must swim.” When he’s on, Barzelay’s voice, lyrics, and phrasing match the music so well that the whole affair seems natural and effortless. The first two songs are the strongest; he strikes the right balances on both and avoids the pitfalls that mark some of the remaining songs.
“Ice Cube” features some nice electronic sounds and horn accents that keep it driving. “Joan Jett of Arc” manages to skirt the line between nostalgia and inane reminiscence. “Take me down south with Hall and Oates in her mouth” is another nice example of Barzelay’s ability to turn a phrase musically and lyrically. On “Moment in the Sun,” he takes a shot at self-centered writers with nothing new to offer: “‘Cause I have a lot of things to say and you’d be wise to listen good, I think that hunger, war, and death are bringing everybody down.” Barzelay and the band are all confident enough to know where their skills lie, and as a result, you as a listener can relax and let the songs develop. You aren’t waiting for the songs to start sucking because they so effortlessly maneuver musical corners. By the time you notice a bad idea, another good one has already caught your attention.
Only a few elements come close to ringing sour. Occasional popular culture references stick out to slow the songs down. A reference to tearless shampoos works nicely on “Don’t Be Afraid of Your Anger,” but repeating “Calgon take me away” in the fade-out of “The Ballad of Unzer Charlie” feels clunky. “The Junky Jews” is a great title for a song about Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, but the song gets bogged down in melodrama. Still, for every attempt that tanks, there are two nice songwriting turns that make this album stand out.
Few concessions seem to have been made to make the album more commercially palatable. Few of the songs deliberately go pop, and none of the hooks get easily digested only to be spit out. The band liberally mixes in horns and strings without sounding ridiculous. Unlike too many bands that throw in a trumpet just because they can, Clem Snide’s choice of arrangements and sounds are warm and well-done; the album is unlikely to ever sound dated. And more power to them. I’m so sick of songwriters who name check someone like Elvis Costello or Nick Drake but whose output indicates that about 20 minutes of thought goes into each song. Clem Snide and his band have skills, for sure. It’s not really indie-rock, not really alt-country, not really alt-pop; in fact, I guess, it’s all those. Good for them.