Not exactly an easy listen, Benjamin Clementine’s Mercury Prize winning debut is rich with treasures that reveal themselves slowly.
But what treasures they are.
Like a degustation menu for the ears, these songs should be savoured and consumed with relish.
A sharp, observational songwriter, he presents a mix of spoken poetry, soulful note bending and almost operatic soaring, over musical beds that are sometimes so bare it makes you blush.
His voice really is a wondrous thing, at times ghosting Nina Simone, at others saluting his inspiration, Antony Hegarty, while his poetry is spoken in a clipped, almost self-conscious accent that can be both charming and slightly distancing in its formality.
These songs are theatrical, dramatic and deeply layered with lyrical depth and melodies that serve up sounds both sweet and sour.
The opening autobiographical Winston Churchill’s Boy retools Winston Churchill’s famous “Never in the field of human conflict” speech and you know you’re in for something different right from the get go.
A risky move, it has every chance of failing dramatically, but his voice is suffused with such a gently yearning intimacy, that he’s able to rewrite quite a few rules on tracks such as this and Then I Heard A Bachelor’s Cry, where he swoops and glides over swelling strings like a newly freed bird on the wing, and still pull the listener along with him, almost daring us to listen.
His preferred choice of instrumentation is his own Satie- styled piano voicing, mournful strings and occasional drum and bass grooves to provide lifts where necessary.
The arrangements are sophisticated and do occasion a second listen in places to appreciate their subtlety, and that’s what makes this such a rewarding, if challenging, experience.
Clementine is a man with talent to the extreme and a willingness to bend and push boundaries without fear of failure.
Musician, actor, singer, music reviewer, Phil’s interests cover a lot of bases and this is reflected in the music he writes about. From blues to soul, ambient to electronic, Phil writes about artists he feels are interesting, true to their craft and worthy of your ears.