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The Clean
Anthology (Reissue) Nick Hutchings , October 1st, 2014 12:56

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When Peter Gutteridge of the band Snapper and one of the founding members of The Clean died recently, the fact the tributes were led by indie luminaries Thurston Moore and the Wooden Shjips came as no surprise. The Clean have always been the band's favourite band; supporting Pavement on their comeback tour and covered by Yo La Tengo who later featured on The Clean's last album Getaway. With the double vinyl reissue of Anthology there's another chance to find out why.

Opening with the farfisa organ infused salvo of 'Tally Ho!' this wasn't the first song on Roger Shepherd's Flying Nun Records, but it was certainly its clarion call and that of a whole movement, which came to be known as the Dunedin sound. Simplistic in its nursery rhyme construction, supremely cheap in its realisation, infamously costing just $60 NZ to record, it's a song that's so effective it's hard to shake. But it's only the tip of an iceberg. The Clean were always intended as a fluid, occasional proposition, a watering hole from which geysers of other activity would emerge in the shape of The Bats, The Chills and aforementioned Snapper and that's why although 'Tally Ho!' was recorded in 1978, the band didn't record their first album until 1989. They were certainly busy though, recording a sequence of EPs, singles, flexi giveaways all of which are gathered here, along with a gamut of rarities from a fruitful burst of activity from the 90s.

That wasn't the only way this band were different though. Formed from a punk band called Enemy, and being handed records by The Byrds and other exotic vinyl inspiration by local legend, doyen and record shop owner Roy Colbert, The Clean were unique in New Zealand for daring not to be a covers band.  Thousands of miles away from their influences, self taught on the guitar and initially recording on a 4 track with Chris Knox later of Tall Dwarfs and fellow Clean member Doug Hood, their earliest EPs Boodle Boodle Boodle and Great Sounds Great are bristling with tunes and an almost prescient pop sensibility. These are tunes from the isolated garageland that launched a thousand slackers in the States. It's uncertain if Colbert had passed on any Television Personalities, Swell Maps or Alternative Television records but sounds of a jingle jangle morning were dawning in Dunedin. And if they didn't then feed the C86 scene, then the coincidences of the New Zealand zeitgeist were striking – 'Thumbs Off' could easily be a relative of English bands I, Ludicrous or Mighty Mighty.

'Anything Could Happen' and its world of narcotic possibilities good and bad, is an underrated indie classic, perhaps even a stoned re-working of 'Mr. Pharmacist'. There are also echoes of The Fall on 'Side On' with its offbeat monotone vocal delivery, and again its questionable if The Clean had indeed ever heard Mark E Smith at the time. Herein, the Manc snarl is replaced by a charmingly cracked but clearly audible and definitely enjoyable Kiwi accent. Jesus & Mary Chain meets motorik drives on other songs like 'Platypus' and live favourite 'Point That Thing' and the Spaghetti Western instrumental 'Fish' is part Can, part Dick Dale and an obvious influence on Clinic.

Although the first disc contains the hits such as they were, including 'Billy Two', 'Beatnik' and 'Getting Older', it's the second disc which includes later post hiatus records like Vehicle from 1989, engineered by Alan Moulder before his career defining work with Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails et al, Modern Rock from '94 and Unknown Country from '96 that offer slightly less explored insights into an ever-evolving band.

From Vehicle 'I Wait Around' and 'Diamond Shine' have a whiff of the Weddoes, 'The Blue' has the flavour of 'Taste' by Ride. It has the feel of a John Peel session on the cusp of Britpop, yet at 1989 still strangely ahead of its time.  Better produced, the Kilgour's uncanny knack for a tune is forefronted, but their nitpicky edge is not lost. The tunes still have irritability, an unconscious tousle of tonsures like an itch you can't scratch from your head. They could still be obtuse – 'Ludwig' is as lyrically ridiculous (almost) as 'Supper's Ready' from Genesis' Foxtrot. The almost imperceptibly off-kilter 'Franz Kafka At The Zoo' is spiritual dad to Pavement's 'Father To A Sister Of Thought' and they still couldn't quite loosen their grip on those now vintage synths peppering the likes of 'Too Much Violence' from Modern Rock.

As earlier song 'On & Off Again' intones with self consciously tuneless plaintive, The Clean were by no means conventional in construction, inspiration or execution, but they were definitely more on than off. It's difficult to not keep listening to Anthology and its side on lyrics and dynamics again and again.    

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Oct 5, 2014 5:30pm

This is not a review, it is a list of indie bands that you perceive to be pre or post the subject matter. Maybe your intention is to draw in people with mention of reference points & help with sales but it is an awkward read I'm afraid.

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Andrew
Oct 5, 2014 11:12pm

Mate, yer enthusiasm is spot on but yer historiography is real suspect. If you're gonna do a potted history as part of a review you gotta get it right.
Just a few issues that need the airbrush:
The Clean were inspired by Chris Knox in the Enemy. As were many others. They weren't from or of them.
Also, it seems the Kilgours were massive record collectors themselves. They probably woulda turned people onto gear like the Fall (who were ADORED by NZ underground rock muckers and toured in 81 or 82)
For the real story go to: http://www.audioculture.co.nz/people/the-clean

Sorry to be a salty auld prick. Maybe you're a pup in the first throes of love and I'm a grumpy Southern music and history fan easily offended.
It is strange and beautiful music to be embraced and cherished. Good on you for seeing that, maybe that's what you needed to focus on.
Cheers,
Andrew

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