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The Clean - Mister Pop

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Artist: The Clean

Album: Mister Pop

Label: Merge

Review date: Sep. 10, 2009

For 30 years The Clean have been the masthead group of the voluble New Zealand underground. Their first five or so singles, compiled on the first disc of Anthology, pretty much wrote the book for indie rock across the ‘80s and ‘90s (and much of the current American underground, for that matter), and their work as cultural ambassadors, though undertaken with absolute nonchalance by the brothers David and Hamish Kilgour and associate Robert Scott, has pretty much put NZ on the map as one of the key outposts for the distillation of most all that’s good about rock music.

But Clean albums are different things now –they’re closer to David Kilgour solo records with his old mates in tow. Nothing particularly wrong with that, but if you’re looking for the amphetamine drive of early Clean songs like “Billy Two” or “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” you’ll have to keep looking elsewhere (perhaps in Tom Lax’s stock cupboard). The energy of youth has been replaced by metaphoric and literal Pacific wisdom, a development that at first is a not unsad thing, until David Kilgour’s hooks work their way into you. If anything’s surprising about Kilgour’s songs, it’s that they can still be affecting given the offhandedness of his delivery. I guess he’s never really been on speaking terms with the demonstrative.

To be honest, Mister Pop doesn’t quite measure up even to the first few Clean records from their third return (Modern Rock is an overlooked gem); it feels a bit haphazard at times, the instrumentals don’t need to be there, and Robert Scott’s song isn’t as potent as usual. I guess he saved his best for the new Bats record, The Guilty Office. But rather like American counterparts The Feelies and Yo La Tengo, The Clean often manage to make the most of limited resources. There’s a particular language to Clean songs that doesn’t quite get fully articulated elsewhere, and while hundreds of groups have plucked ideas from their toolbox, no-one quite does what The Clean do.

Ultimately, your mileage with Mister Pop will depend on how much value your place in comfort, as Clean records are comfortable things these days. I certainly know a few people who feel that a new Clean album is a cultural irrelevance at best, and more often a tired indulgence. Each to their own, but I can bear spending some time in this part of the world.

By Jon Dale

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