The career of most bands follows a depressing, predictable course: the flame of initial promise; followed by great expectations; followed by swift decline and demise, brought about by internal and external pressures, arrogance, poor instinct, a loss of the naive charm that marked the band as special in the first place, or all of the above. You, the audience, have heard the story, read the best-selling biography, and seen the major motion picture time and time again.
So it comes as no small surprise that The Clumsy Lovers ten years and over 1,500 live performances deep are only now poised to achieve the creative and popular breakthrough of their lives. Without ever having courted or discouraged success, the happy-go-lucky Vancouver quintet has made an album that expertly walks the tightrope between tradition-minded roots music (“Raging bluegrass Celtic rock,” a reviewer once said) and sparkling modern pop. In trying to please no one but themselves, The Clumsy Lovers have conceived a collection of songs that may prove to please damn near everyone.
“We’ve been a band for a long time, and we’ve never really imposed any kind of musical restrictions on ourselves,” says bassist and band spokesman Chris Jonat. “It’s really just, ‘Whatever happens, happens.'"
Smart Kid is the Clumsy Lovers’ seventh album, and second for Nettwerk Records. Like its acclaimed predecessor, After the Flood, it was made in collaboration with producer John Webster, who encouraged the band to approach the studio with a more adventurous spirit. The band has long felt at home on any stage, whether in front of 50 raucous patrons at a roadhouse or thousands of music-lovers at a festival or concert hall. But the band used to view the studio as a necessary evil ? a domain in which to make audio souvenirs for audiences to take away from Lovers live shows. Those older recordings were reasonably accurate documents of the band’s onstage sound, but they were hardly the sort of artifacts that would help take them to the next level.
“For a long time I was a big proponent of ‘Make sure your CD represents your live show,’ especially for us because we tour so much. And, before After the Flood, 95 per cent of our sales were off-stage,” explains Jonat. “I’m a late learner, but what works live doesn’t necessarily work in the studio, and vice versa. More than I ever did before, I view them as two separate art forms. You definitely still want it to sound like you, but what bears repeated listening is different from what’s fun to hear in the pub or in the concert hall.”
From the rollicking story-in-song “Bobby Banjo” to the bittersweet knees-up “Coming Home” to the mournful and poignant “Not Long For This World,” Smart Kid is the Clumsy Lovers’ long-playing pinnacle and a strong suggestion that, after having come so far, the band is only going to go further, get better. Long may they clumsily stumble from strength to strength.