Cleaners From Venus

The Late District

Far be it from us to ever expect a conventional album from Cleaners From Venus, their new album The Late District showcases Martin Newell’s fragmented style. There are field recordings, one-third of its 15 tunes are instrumental (from moody jazz to wistful pastoral), and the first song proper doesn’t even appear until track four. But that’s not to dismiss what we get along the way.

Opener ‘Lost Voices’, a 30-second choral arrangement, flows into ‘Saturday Games’, a slice of the jangle he’s best known for. And what a killer song it is, moving enticingly along through melodic section after melodic section, though in typically eccentric Cleaners style, vocals come in for less than 20 seconds of this three-minute otherwise very pop number. The intriguing image of turning up "in flames for Saturday games" is explained in Newell’s hilarious accompanying notes where all the songs are ascribed to fictitious films.

The daydreamy piano of ‘Essex Girls’ then flutters into ‘I’m Moving On’, another of the record’s highlights. An ode to both drifting and what you can’t take with you (a la his ‘Goodnight Country Girl’ from The Off White Album), ‘I’m Moving On’ once again shows Newell’s love of Essex in its chorus of "South, North, or West, East is the best, because I live there".

‘Marble Run’ is a jaunty minor stroll through the backwoods of memory, told late at night and whisky-soaked in the corner of the pub. The beautiful ‘Idol’, one of Newell’s all-time best, could easily be an early 70’s Bowie character reminiscing about his time in a coastal village. Looking back is a favourite subject of Newell’s, always managing to strike just the right tone and balance of emotion, never too heavy-handed or –hearted about it.

Closer ‘Welcome To Heaven’ reminds us that Martin knows all the best chord progressions. An amusing look at an afterlife with Julie Andrews, Julie Christie, Blue Nun and Chablis, all running ‘on chip and pin’. Much like his poetry of late, of which a new collection is due out soon, this song speaks fondly of his interests while offering wry commentary on modern life.

The song ‘Billy Liar’, mentioned in last year’s Quietus interview, didn’t make the cut. A disappointment perhaps, but one sees why, for The Late District hangs together as an album with its own internal sense of logic. And with material this good and such stellar songs yet to be recorded, Newell proves that he’s still a songwriting force to be reckoned with, and showing no signs of slowing up. With the three Cleaners reissues and now The Late District all in 2012, hopefully the world at large will catch on soon.

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