The Clientele – The Violet Hour

The Clientele
The Violet Hour

Although The Clientele formed in London in 1997, The Violet Hour is the trio’s first full-length album of hazy, captivating, acoustic pop. This album follows a dozen singles, two EPs, and a collection of singles and B-sides titled Suburban Light that were released around the world over the last six years.
It’s impossible to read about The Clientele without a reference to Galaxie 500’s presumed influence on the three Brits, but I’ll limit mention of Dean Wareham’s former band to the following statement: you’ll likely devour The Violet Hour if you’re a fan of Galaxie 500, but don’t avoid this mellow mix if you’ve never liked or heard the latter.
On The Violet Hour‘s opening title track, it’s clear The Clientele has maintained its sensitive approach to haunting aural experiences, with a slightly quicker leap to choruses. Yet, considering that the band wanders and whispers gradually, an earlier chorus is a healthy progression. Second track “Voices in the Mall” typifies the nostalgic tone of past singles. Similarly, “When You and I Were Young” digs deep into childhood memories and innocent moments.
“Jamaican Rum Rhumba” is a traditional guitar instrumental that somehow fits perfectly on the album, with upbeat calm, effectively overcoming any concern about its misplacement on an album of dusky songs. Mark Keen opens “House on Fire” with jazzy drumming that, together with James Hornsey’s tempered bass, exudes a smoky club feel. “Everybody’s Gone” lets vocalist Alasdair MacLean experiment with guitar distortion and reverb, and these are also featured significantly on “Porcelain.” Near the album’s end, “Prelude” is the most somber track The Clientele has ever recorded. Written and played solo on piano by Keen, “Prelude” evokes images of someone accepting the disastrous hand he’s been dealt.
Undoubtedly, the album’s biggest surprise is the two-minute burst of noisy guitars, loud feedback, and faster drumming that shift “The House Always Wins” from a whispered and worn journey. At over eight minutes, “The House Always Wins” is atypically long and rocking for The Clientele. The album’s 13 tracks are augmented by two videos shot in Super 8 film for “House on Fire” and “Reflections After Jane,” the highlight of 2001’s Suburban Light.
These Londoners are less edgy than The Velvet Underground and more elegiac, with occasional church bells and lyrics that typify northern England more than the capital. MacLean and his mates have pursued more traditional song structures on The Violet Hour and elevated their guitars’ presence. The Clientele’s debut album offers consistently strong melodies, excellent playing, occasional surprise, and a taste for more, come rain or sun.