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splendid > reviews > 11/10/2003
Clearlake
Clearlake
Cedars
Domino


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Keep Smiling"

Buy me now
Throughout rock history, the British have given us stratospheric superstars -- Robert Plant, Bryan Ferry and David Bowie, to name but a few. While these multi-platinum egos garner the lion's share of the attention, it's important to note that the Isles have also provided us with legions of everyman laureates, who, unlike their megalomaniacal countrymen, truly inspire those in need of inspiration, penning tunes that encompass humanity's struggles and making us feel, if only for a fleeting moment, that we are the centre of the living universe.

Propped up by the current zeitgeist, a clutch of bands who were once humbly inspiring have lost touch in the wake of overwhelming commercial success (Coldplay, Starsailor and the almighty 'Head), leaving us to search for new heroes. Brighton-based quartet Clearlake might not be the answer to all the world's problems, but their stunning sophomore album, Cedars, reminds us that sometimes the muse emerges from the most unlikely places imaginable. Dismissed as cheap a Radiohead clone upon the release of their debut, Lido, the band amassed a modest following on the strength of Jason Pegg's wondrous lyrics and flexible timbre. Now, two years on, they've emerged with an album of didactic power and limitless ambition -- an album poised to return British rock to its "by the people, for the people" status.

Overstatement is Clearlake's supreme attribute -- it's the trait that vaults their routine poetics above and beyond those busking on street corners and in parking garages. The arched excess of "It's All Too Much" recalls Jeff Buckley, and the damn-bursting orchestrations of "The Mind is Evil" are the funereal knoll the garage set have feared for ages. "Treat Yourself with Kindness" is Verve-ian in its epic interstellar guitar explorations, and the closing "Trees in the City" brings the album down on a high note -- flutterby guitars explode in an arch of molten melody and minor-key ruminations. Clearlake's aspirations haven't quite reached Muse or Cooper Temple Clause-like levels of pomposity -- that's the reason they remain so damned endearing.

Epic indie rock is isn't the only rabbit Clearlake pull from their bag of tricks; "Almost the Same"'s grinding motorik bassline and cauterizing guitars are distinctly Wire-like in their contempt, while the martial "Wonder if the Snow Will Settle" reflects the band's steadfast British upbringing: swirls of Echo and the Bunnymen collide with strangulating Chameleons UK bass knots and Pegg's suave Moz-on-Valium delivery for a glorious bout of dour derision. The band never goes foot-to-the-floor techno or speed-metal bonzo, but you get the distinct impression that, if they did, you really wouldn't mind.

Chances are good that we'll soon lose Clearlake to the fickle corporate crowd, but for the time being they remain a band we can hold close to our hearts -- and, perhaps more importantly, call our own.



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