There’s been oh so much talk in the past couple years about the retirement of The Clientele. Singer and guitarist Alasdair MacLean said the following prior to the release of the band’s last album “Bonfires on the Heath”: “I think it’d close the chapter quite well. If you don’t have any more ideas you should just go away, I guess.” This among other discussion of possibly breaking up the band once they had finished touring in support of their current record. He also mentioned the possibility of The Clientele continuing to make music should they find an interesting reason to. The idea was floated that they might be amenable to working on a film soundtrack or something similar. Well, there’s no word on that just yet, but MacLean has already announced a new project he’s working on called Amor de Dias. While we wait to see what will come of that, there’s a brand new Clientele mini-album in our midst this week. Titled “Minotaur”, it spans 8 tracks and 30 minutes and is about what you’d expect from the band.
As with any band that’s been around for 10 years and has four albums to their name, there are certain things that are a normal part of every Clientele song. Their first couple records waded largely in the quiet, pastoral 60’s folk-pop arena, there were plenty of catchy moments to be found, but much of it was somber and “autumnal” in nature. “Bonfires on the Heath” was very much in that vein as well, though that was more a return to form after the surprisingly upbeat and much more pop-driven “God Save the Clientele”. And while the variations in their sound may only have been minimal, the additions of some new members and instruments has served them well in the end. The Clientele have learned how to smooth out every rough edge of their music and even when a song completely falls flat it still comes off shiny and gorgeous. Where “Minotaur” falls is right in the band’s sweet spot, very capably balancing the soft and beautiful, the surprisingly catchy and the outright experimental.
Opening title track “Minotaur” has the feeling of a great Clientele track, but the lyrical subject matter is a little different from the typical “love and nature” topics MacLean tends to focus on. The explanation behind that one is pretty easy, as apparently drummer Mark Keen wrote the lyrics. “Jerry” comes in next and is smooth as silk until a surprise guitar solo tears things up and elevates the song above the band’s average. One of the most fascinating things about “As the World Rises and Falls” is that it was originally done by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. This cover version not only works well with the rest of the mini-album, but The Clientele absolutely make it their own in only the way they could. Things really start to get interesting around “Strange Town”, a song that has the feeling of a potential hit but then just plain aborts after about 90 seconds. Why the band chose to leave the song in what feels like an underdeveloped state is a mystery, but it does work in the sense that you’re left wanting more. “No. 33” is a token Clientele instrumental track, pleasant and beautiful as expected (and also short), while “The Green Man” is a 5 minute spoken word piece with atmospheric background noise that has sharp echoes of the excellent “Strange Geometry” track “Losing Haringey”. To close things return to a more normal state with the unassuming song “Nothing Here Is What It Seems”. It’s a stately and perfect way to end the mini-album, and that could be said about the tracklisting to the entire thing – arranged exactly the way it needs to be.
Perhaps the saddest part of “Minotaur” is again the continued suggestion that any day now The Clientele are just going to put down their instruments and call it quits. Given their long streak of prolific and completely underrated albums, the music world would certainly be missing a band filled to the brim with great talents. Yes, Alasdair MacLean will land on his feet, probably with his new project, but this collection of talent, including the newest member in multi-instrumentalist Mel Draisey is too strong to simply let go. “Minotaur” may be a swan song for The Clientele, so it’s a great thing that they might be going out on a high note. If “Bonfires on the Heath” really was intended to be the last record the band released, the themes of autumn and the slow descent into winter/death of nature were perfectly planned at the time. With “Minotaur”, it feels like when an old friend that moved away years ago finally returns for a visit. You’re so blissfully happy to see that person again and you wrap them in a warm hug and wish that they could just come back home where they belong forever. Well, life doesn’t always work out how we want it to. The future of The Clientele remains in peril, and we can hope they’ll continue onwards, but the choice is not ours to make. Perhaps if enough of us show support for “Minotaur”, we’ll continue to get more gracefully beautiful music from this band. If that doesn’t work, our memories will have to suffice.