The Clean – Anthology

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The Clean are the diffident Zeus in the pantheon of New Zealand bands. Without the Clean, we would not have the Bats, Bailter Space, or influential label Flying Nun, which means we don’t have basically any New Zealand indie rock at all. And other non-Kiwi bands like Pavement and Yo La Tengo would sound very different without the Clean, I believe. Formed in 1978 by Hamish Kilgour and brother David, it eventually included bassist Robert Scott. A fractured history ensued, and they did not release their first album until 1990. Scott also fronts the Bats, whom I love, and Hamish Kilgour formed Bailter Space and the Mad Scene (which at one point included former Go-Betweens bassist Robert Vickers).

What I Think of This Album

I believe this is what people refer to as “an embarrassment of riches.” At 46 tracks, this massive two-disc compilation is arguably all the Clean you need, and most certainly all the Clean you want. I often struggle with albums of this size – it’s daunting to take in all at once. I usually like to break things down into 12 song chunks or so when listening.

The first disc is from the band’s early period, when they neither released full albums nor anything not on vinyl. Starting with the impossibly catchy and cheerful debut single “Tally Ho,” I believe disc one gathers together everything from the early ‘80s (up until the band broke up, leading Scott to form the Bats, and Hamish Kilgour to eventually convene Bailter Space). The story is that the recording budget for “Tally Ho” was $60 (New Zealand dollars). Whatever the cost, it was money well spent, as the cheery, chintzy organ sound (which calls to mind garage standards like “California Sun,” “Little Bit O’ Soul,” and “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)”) is easy to fall for and propelled this simple, wonderful track to the Top 20 in New Zealand and thrust Flying Nun (this was the second single the label issued) into the limelight.

I am not going to go into each of the other 21 songs on this first album, but in general . . . it’s pretty cool. There is sometimes a Velvet Underground churn to the tracks, like on “Billy Two,” “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” “Fish,” and “At The Bottom,” and sometimes more of a jangly sound, as exemplified by “Thumbs Off,” “Anything Could Happen,” and “Flowers.” There are slightly experimental numbers like “Side On” and “Sad Eyed Lady” (with Chris Knox on vocals; Knox also recorded several of these early tracks), or “Slug Song.” The organ reappears on “Beatnik.” Hamish Kilgour reliably plays a sort of motorik beat. And there is consistently a joyful exuberance to the performances.

Martin Phillips of the Chills sings backup on “Getting Older,” which features an unexpected trumpet from Scott (as well as viola). The wonderful quasi-anthem “Whatever I Do Is Right” is hilarious. And best song title goes to the surging “Odditty” – as in, odd ditty.

The second disc pulls from the post-reunion albums Vehicle, Modern Rock, and Unknown Country. This is generally more straightforward sounding, with much cleaner production. There is no reason songs like “I Wait Around” (which admittedly sounds like a looser version of the Bats) and the warm “Big Soft Punch” shouldn’t have been more popular. “Big Cat” is adorably unusual, while “Outside the Cage” is unusually lush.

There is a lot about the Modern Rock and some of the Unknown Country tracks that reminds me of Yo La Tengo. The revelatory “Do Your Thing” sounds like the band recruited J. Mascis on guitar and Warren Zevon on the piano. Outtake “Late Last Night” is better than most bands’ A-sides. “Wipe Me, I’m Lucky” (WHAT?) is an incandescently morose near-instrumental. “Clutch” is what Lou Reed and Brian Wilson collaborating would sound like.

Alan Moulder (Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, Swervedriver, Interpol, U2, Nine Inch Nails, the Killers) produced the Vehicle tracks. Hamish Kilgour’s drawings throughout the booklet are delightful.

The Best Thing About This Album

The bright enthusiasm of the performances is disarming and lovable.

Release Date

2002

The Cover Art

I like it. Hamish Kilgour’s whimsical doodles are the ideal complement to his band’s music.

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