Flying Nun [2002 Compilation]
Anthologies are funny things. As extended ‘best-of’ collections they seem to gather more respect than their antiquated siblings. Sometimes however, an anthology comes along that just gets everything so right – it doesn’t really matter that a majority of the source material was already available. The Clean’s phenomenal early (1980-1983) material was originally collected on vinyl (and then extended and reissued on cd in an extended form) as the seminal ‘compilation’ album. A breathtaking summation of The Clean’s diverse, rugged and hearty sounds – but it was never the complete collection it deserved to be, despite being one of the most solid batch of songs ever committed to 4-track.
The Clean’s Boodle Boodle Boodle and Great Sounds Great, Good Sounds Good.. EP releases, and the original Tally Ho singles are exquisite rarities seldom surfacing in their homeland of New Zealand, let alone stateside. Thoughtfully compiled by David Kilgour (lead guitar / vocals) himself, the Anthology is a two-disc monster broke up into pre-83 early material on the first disc, and a collective summation of their three albums released prior to 2001’s Getaway, including several b-sides from 1994’s Modern Rock on the second disc.
Obviously the first disc covers a lot of the same ground covered by Compilation – but adds venom by including all the original EP tracks, along with several unreleased songs, a couple of newly mixed retakes, and a track off of the oft ignored Oddities compilation. The end result stands more cohesive, dynamic and (thankfully) at a level of fidelity that The Clean have seldom been heard before.
With the delightful glee Martin Phillips church organ on the original Tally Ho single, things are off to a cracking start – one that actually managed to chart in New Zealand, quite an achievement for a $50 recording. A real sing-a-long number, the guitars are at the back of mix, whilst Phillips’ cameo absolutely makes the song. It’s then followed by the stop-start b-side derived from a live recording ‘Platypus’ – which showcases Kilgour’s brilliant guitar playing, even in these early recordings.
The absolute pinnacle of The Clean’s performances, Boodle Boodle Boodle manages to squeeze so much character, emotion, and texture out of five simple two-riff masterpieces. The delightful shuffle of ‘Billy Two’ leads into the first Robert Scott vocal song – ‘Thumbs Off’, which while not quite up to the vocal standards of Scott’s work in the bats, chugs along following a decidedly whimsical narrative. The ep just gets stronger and stronger, with ‘anything could happen’, containing the immortal line ‘Well here I am in the big city / i’ve got no heart and i’ve got no pity’, possibly the most intriguing comment ever made about Dunedin – a student city of just 150,000 people in those days! The downbeat ballad ‘sad-rneyed lady’ makes way for The Clean’s inimitable centrepiece ‘point that thing somewhere else’. A simple one-riff monster encompassing two layers of brutal, rolling guitars, pounding bass, primal drumming and lithe vocals – it’s the song that defines the entire ‘Dunedin sound’ movement, an anarchistic mix of raw energy, melodic guitar textures and a dark, sense of mystery to the lyrics.
The brilliant (and superbly named) great sounds great, good sounds good, so-so sounds so-so, bad sounds bad, rotten sounds rotten ep expands on The Clean’s sound by encompassing south-style instrumental country (‘fish’), anarchistic folk-punk leanings (‘side on’) and jolly pop in the form of another organ-based chirpy number, the anthem-like ‘beatnik’. ‘End of my dream’ and ‘on again/off again’ are possibly hints at what would follow with The Clean’s spin-off band ‘the great unwashed’, being more of an acoustic, lo-fi project. The great unwashed toured and recorded several eps in Robert Scott’s absence during 1983, using original bass player peter gutteridge (now of snapper).
A new recording in the form of a re-working of the driving groove-based instrumental ‘at the bottom’, clearly demonstrating that in a live capacity the boys are still up to their former greatness with a scorching effort. The first disc concludes with a multitude of tracks from various sources, encompassing the classic post break-up track ‘getting older’, along with several other tracks found on either the compilation cd reissue or the oddities collections.
Between their second break-up in 1983 and eventual reforming in 1989 (for the release of the full-length debut vehicle, which opens the second disc), the three members of The Clean had travelled down very different paths. Hamish Kilgour had developed his noisier, brasher side with the post-gordon’s initial line-up of bailter space. Scott had developed his folk-pop side with the bats, becoming quite an astounding pop-song writer during the process of recording daddy’s highway. Meanwhile David Kilgour was hard at work creating earthy, modern pop songs with his own solo material. Vehicle tries quite hard to capture the spirit of their earlier recordings, and with left-over songs such as ‘drawing to a whole’ it works to a point – but on other tracks, even in this compressed format, a great deal of the magic is lost.
Thankfully though, The Clean have always been a fun band, and from vehicle closer ‘big cat’, to the demented modern rock album, things are very fun indeed. The Clean experimented with all sorts of conditioning into their production of modern rock, which comes across as one part The Clean, one part jean-paul sartre experience and a great dollop of monty-python for good measure. Keyboards really make an impression on the album, a reflection of the bands then new found kraut-rock influences. Vocals are also far more prominent in the mix, drilling in their collective attitude to vocal leads (which by then were almost evenly shared). Scott sounds even more mellon collie and demure than on his bats recordings, particularly the wistful ‘secret place’. Accompanied by a number of modern rock out-takes, the second disc takes a demented turn with the aptly named ‘psychedelic ranger’, pitting bizarre (german’) vocal doodlings with matching percussion effects, and then concludes with the jokey, wandering narrative ‘ludwig’.
Finally concluding with extracts from 1996’s pop-based effort unknown country the second disc has so much variation and fine moments, that it doesn’t matter if it’s a little on the uneven side. Probably my favourite album of their latter era, unknown country is a decidedly ‘studio’ album, a marked change from their lo-fi origins. The textural introduction ‘wipe me i’m lucky’, melodic ‘franz kafka at the zoo’ and novelty sing-along ‘twist top’ are full of vitality – which again earns the album a comparison to their countrymen the jean paul sartre experience’s earlier material. Strings, novelty toys, keyboards, backwards guitar and singsong vocals all make appearances on out-takes, which often (‘wipe me i’m lucky’, ‘balkans’, ‘chumpy’) seem more like short musical vignettes that the rock songs of their past.
It’s a thorough and diverse collection of the bands highlights and prolific early days. Well packaged and presented – it’s probably the best way to delve into The Clean’s remarkably simply, yet powerful sound. Though the second disc falls short of revelation, anthology replaces the ageing compilation package as the definitive document of the band, and deserves genuine classic status for the first disc alone.