In a way, it’s hard to imagine a more English band than the Clientele. Maybe that’s because singer-guitarist Alasdair MacLean sings in a hushed, breathy voice that sounds as if he’s trying to win the heart of some English rose outside class at Oxford without disturbing the vicar down the hall. The Clientele gives their albums titles like Bonfires on the Heath and their songs titles like “Winter on Victoria Street” and fill them with melancholy lyrics about rain, trees, walking in the park, and the changing seasons — basically the stuff of every English poet you ever read in school. And the Clientele always sound reminiscent of British music of the ’60s. (Not so much the Beatles, the Stones, or the Who, but definitely the Zombies and early Pink Floyd.) Even when they lace their impeccable arrangements with country pedal-steel guitar, it sounds more like Sussex than the Bible Belt.
So, maybe it comes as a surprise that the Clientele are largely ignored in their home country while they are adored by a small but devoted following in the United States. Perhaps we can chalk this up to American anglophilia, but maybe not.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up listening to the Kinks without knowing that “Waterloo Sunset” was about a particular stop on the London underground. I had the Smiths’ Strangeways Here We Come for years before I found out that Strangeways was a prison. What spoke to me wasn’t the overt Englishness of those bands, it was their intelligence. The Clientele speak to me the same way. They aren’t great because they’re more English than other bands; they’re great because they’re better than other bands.
CLIENTELE: The Casbah, Thursday, March 4, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $12; $14 day of show.