Alasdair MacLean, singer and guitarist for the British band The Clientele, likes both kinds of music—country and Western—as much as the next bloke, but that’s not why he and his mates decided to record their latest album, God Save The Clientele, in Nashville. “I love country music,” he says, “but when British people do that sort of shit it makes me sick.... A lot of it has to do with Marky’s [Mark Nevers’] talents as a producer. It had nothing to do with getting in touch with the heart of country music or posing for photos on railroad tracks.”
It was during a U.K. tour with Merge labelmates Lambchop that MacLean got introduced to the idea of recording with Nevers. One thing led to another, and the resulting collection is another solid batch of lush, ’60s-flavored pop songs. “I tried to write more directly on this album,” MacLean says. “There’s a sort of tortuous, somber quality about Strange Geometry that I wanted the band to escape from.”
The band doesn’t quite pull off that escape on God Save—the songs are still melancholy, often in spite of otherwise upbeat arrangements—but Nevers’ production is bright and clean. The bouncing keys and ebullient, rubbery bass line of the opening track, “Here Comes the Phantom,” are a perfect counterpoint to MacLean’s vocals, simultaneously wistful and weary. The band may not have been aiming for the heart of country music per se, but they clearly have that fabled organ, with all its foibles and idiosyncratic desires, squarely in their sights: “Lonely cops pick flowers on their beats / And what do they see? / Summer waits in the leaves…. / Happiness just comes and goes / My heart is playing like a violin.”
But aimed-for or not, country music does rear its heart on God Save. Never have The Clientele sounded higher or more lonesome than on “The Queen of Seville,” which features a haunting and surprisingly spare pedal steel part that was never part of the song’s original design, instead coming spontaneously out of the recording process.
“I hadn’t envisaged that track having pedal steel at all,” MacLean explains. “But we got Pete Finney, who is a fantastic session steel player, into the studio…. At the time, that one was sounding incredibly dull as I remember, so we got him to spice it up for us.”Another additional flavor this go-around is the presence of Mel Draisey as a regular member of the band. When The Clientele played The Basement last year, she improvised on violin, which MacLean describes as “a kind of nightmarish task for her, ’cause there are so many key changes and funny chords in our repertoire.” With more time to prepare, Draisey’s been given a free hand, also contributing vocals and string arrangements to the new record. Asked whether the fetching Draisey’s presence has changed the way he writes songs, MacLean says, “It hasn’t changed my songwriting, but maybe it has for lots of boys with guitars in our audiences.”
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