Clem Snide, End of Love

Clem Snide, <em>End of Love</em>

It’s the weirdest thing. Clem Snide’s End of Love has, against all odds, been the hardest damn CD to critique that I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s not that I think it’s bad, per se, or even that it’s good — bear with me, here — but that it’s both, just at different times.

What the hell am I talking about? Okay, let me put it this way: when I listen to the title track off the album, “End of Love,” which is an awesome, shambling, rootsy-sounding track with gorgeously fuzzed guitars and vocals that remind me of The Weakerthans’ John Sampson, I’m blown away. When I hear “Tiny European Cars,” with its odd premise (I like the image of Minis being fueled by Spanish wine) and delicate, plinky sing-song-y-ness, I love it. When I listen to “Collapse,” I find myself waiting to hear those noisy, distorted guitars scrabble and claw away in the background like chaos waiting to boil to the surface. When I put on jangly, jaunty “Fill Me With Your Light,” I want to get out of the office and stroll through the city in the sunshine, smiling at everybody and not giving a damn. When I try to listen to End of Love as a whole, on the other hand, I tune out after only a few songs.

Part of it’s due to the fact that the band essentially front-loaded the album — the best songs, hands down, are the first five or so, and the band takes some pretty major hits later on. “Jews for Jesus Blues,” an outright, softly-done country song about, well, Jews who love Jesus (I guess?), is nice enough, but it’s really kind of a “nothing” song that doesn’t stick once it’s over. Further on, the samba-ish “Something Beautiful” doesn’t even really work, coming off like a half-assed impersonation of a really bad Cake song, and “God Answers Back” is a sweet, gentle ballroom-dancing track which, like “Jews for Jesus,” is also unfortunately pretty forgettable.

The lone bright spot in the second half of the album, really, is “Made For TV Movie,” a quiet, melancholy folk song that relates the travails of Lucille Ball to those of all of us, and what does it for me there is less the music than it is the bumbling chorus duet with somebody who sounds like she must be songwriter/bandleader Eef Barzelay’s daughter (niece?). The awkwardness of their off-timed “la la la”‘s is so earnestly sweet it makes me like the song more than I otherwise would. There’s also “When We Become,” which is an understated, meandering country-folk song with some nice female backing vocals, but even that’s not much to write home about. The best songs on End of Love are all at the beginning.

Another reason for the slow tune-out I get when I try to listen to this whole thing at once is because of the overall sound of the album. To put it bluntly, End of Love‘s a bit of a downer; the better songs, to me, are the rockers, the faster, more uptempo (and often more countryish) tracks. For the most part, End of Love is true to its title lyrically: it’s a somber, melancholy meditation on the death of a relationship (or is it all relationships?). And that’s fine, as it goes, but it makes it hard to listen to. When things get slower, the melancholy shroud Barzelay drags along behind his lyrics just gets to be too damn heavy to penetrate. He’s got a knack for fine first lines (see “The Sound of German Hip-Hop,” for example), but ultimately, I couldn’t tell you what most of the lyrics in the latter part of the album are about, because by then I just can’t focus on ’em.

It’s a hard conclusion to come to, because I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve heard from Clem Snide, because “End of Love” is brilliantly ragged and majestic, like all the best Son Volt songs (and seriously deserves a listen, even if half of the rest of the album doesn’t, necessarily), and because I do enjoy Barzelay’s lyricism and snarky, hipster-ish take on things (even if the refrain of album closer “Weird” seems like it could be aimed pretty easily at Barzelay himself: “You’re not as weird as you’d like me to think”). Taken as a whole, though, while End of Love is a decent enough effort, it’s not a great one. If Clem Snide could’ve sustained the momentum from those first five tracks throughout, this’d be a pretty incredible album. Unfortunately, while I’ll be plunking those tracks onto the iPod to “shuffle” at my leisure — and a couple of ’em make this almost worth the price of admission — I’m not going to bother with the rest.

(spinART Records -- P.O. Box 1798, New York, NY. 10156-1798; http://www.spinartrecords.com/; Clem Snide -- http://www.clemsnide.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, March 1st, 2005. Filed under Reviews.

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