Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that you're one of those youthful rock fans to whom The Clean mean nothing. It's okay. You're young.
The Clean are from New Zealand. You've heard of New Zealand, right? For some reason, bands from New Zealand possess a peculiar sort of magic that apparently comes from living at the arse-end of the civilized world; they have the power to write pop songs that are both deceptively simple and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The Clean are particularly good at writing simple, gorgeous pop songs. Their songs may not seem like much when you listen to them with half an ear...but when you give them your full attention, you suddenly realize that the band has performed a minor miracle with a couple of barre chords and a threadbare melody.
The Clean have been doing this since 1979 -- quite possibly before you were born. That's right -- in some parts of the world it's possible for bands to exist for more than twenty years without starting to suck. Mind you, The Clean work slowly; this is their first record in nearly four years, and only their fourth full-length overall. Chalk it up to the old quality-over-quantity debate; just as British sitcoms average only six to eight episodes a season, but are usually funnier than an entire season of comparable American TV, a typical Clean record contains as many hooks as five years' output from a typical Stateside band.
Ironically, The Clean had a permanent place in the indie rock canon before they ever put out a full-length, so the majority of their album output, including Getaway, might be considered post-peak, latter-day material. Perhaps there's nothing here as immediately catchy as "Tally Ho!" or "Getting Older", but the latter-day Clean are still amazingly good.
The product, as always, of the exploratory jam sessions of members David and Hamish Kilgour and Robert Scott, Getaway is a relaxed take on modern rock and roll. After a pair of five-minute-plus tunes -- "Stars", which sounds a little like a roughed-up Replacements song, and the more melodic, subtly-effected "Jala", on which Scott demonstrates his ability to create mesmeric bass lines -- the disc settles down for a sequence of short and catchy pop songs. Hamish Kilgour's casually off-key vocals add additional charm to "Crazy"'s tasty jangle, while the maddeningly short instrumental "Cell Block No. 5" garlands orch-pop with ear-tickling keyboard effects. "E Motel" stands out, its glittering acoustic string jangle and muted chords lending an otherworldly sheen to a classic Kinks-derived pop melody. Robert Scott's rare turn behind the mic adds to the track's unusual sound.
Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley stick their noses into "Alpine Madness" and "Circle Canyon", but minimal harm is done; while the former is a purposeless, technique-intensive piece of guitar noodling, the latter, while admittedly 90 seconds too long, is a catchy, percussion-intensive pop tune with vocals buried deep in its mix. The lengthy, borderline psychedelic "Aho" reasserts The Clean's ability to rock, with rough-edged, squelchy chords and wah-wah effects pressed against Hamish Kilgour's breathy vocals and aggressive drumming. The long, quirky "Reprise 1#, 2*, 3*, 8, 4*" proves that the band still has a few new ideas (and apparently owns an autoharp and bongos), while "Complications" ends Getaway with a two-minute distillation of the spirit of Kiwi pop.
Perhaps The Clean have hit upon the secret of eternal musical life -- namely, taking very long breaks between recording sessions, and repeatedly calling it quits. Getaway never seems forced or labored, even on the Yo La Tengo-enhanced tracks; indeed, it's as if The Clean wrote these songs the night before recording them, or perhaps worked them out on the bus on the way to the studio, such is their spontaneity. If the band isn't tired of these songs, how can I be? With each subsequent listen unearthing a new favorite track, Getaway will log a lot of time in my CD player this summer. The Clean may have passed their official prime twenty-odd years ago, but there's still a lot of life in those old instruments.