Sometimes the music is in the language, the words, the syncopated syllables making sweet melody. On Clem Snide's new album End of Love, there is not a phrase wasted. Each lyric contains an idea worth uttering, and each verse is a testament to the beauty contained in the English language. It isn't often that lyrics get to me this way, but Clem Snide's front man Eef Barzelay has proven himself to be a poet to rival any songwriter crafting pop masterpieces today.
As the disc's title warns, Barzelay is in a bit of an anti-romantic mood on this one, especially when compared to his more upbeat offerings on 2003's Soft Spot. The listener is all the better for it as he turns angst and irony on its head with wit and humor causing both winces and laughs. The song titles alone reflect the quality of the language within: "The Sound of German Hip-Hop," "Tiny European Cars," and "Jews for Jesus Blues." Other titles prove to be misleading: "Something Beautiful" is taken out of context as the chorus tells us, "You make me want to break something beautiful," amongst other awful, sometimes sexually charged acts ("sip Lysol from a cup/so clean it hurts") set to a churning cha-cha married with horns, whining guitar and organ, and just a sprinkling of banjo. Barzelay continues with this confrontational second-person narrative in "Weird" telling the target of his scorn, "You wrote me a poem/it didn't rhyme/You're not as weird/as you act all the time," against a jangly country blues background.
The marriage of music to the poetry is nicely done with the band adding a wide range of instrumentation and styles to accommodate the mood of each piece. Horns, strings, backing vocals, raunchy guitars, and just enough drums complement Barzelay's perfectly nasally vocals. While there is an alt-country base camp Clem Snide, here they do not seem bound to a genre or sound, rather adding just enough music to make the song and no more. For "Made for TV Movie" (about Lucille Ball), the lyrics are so perfect they require nothing more than a plucked acoustic guitar and Barzelay's voice, later accompanied by a child on a classic, if not off-kilter, chorus of "la la la's." On "God Answers Back," the Almighty Himself narrates on a little bit of his motivations while the band wails mournfully with a surfer shuffle and vibraphones while reverb-heavy guitars evoke an island paradise. The opening title track is more of a straightforward indie pop classic, but with some delicious tempo changes and a crash of lyrics that spurns like the best Dylan had to offer.
Like the self-contained comedic perfection of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," each song is an economy of language and art, energy and humor, adding up to one fantastic album.
JamBase | New York
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