Many people will have been introduced to the otherworldly talents of Benjamin Clementine when he made his first appearance on Later… With Jools Holland back on 2013. His performance of ‘Nemesis’ in particular was breathtaking, conjuring the portrait of an artist tortured and one whose voice commanded raw power. This was followed two years later by a full-length debut and despite it garnering the approval of the Mercury Prize panel, ‘At Least For Now’ lacked the impact of his live sound.
Now, with the release of sophomore record ‘I Tell A Fly’, it feels as though his musical visions have been distilled perfectly down to the singer’s very essence. Rather than dialling down his eccentricity, which would have no doubt boosted his commercial status following his Mercury win, Clementine has instead ramped up the bombast and theatrical elements that simmered beneath the service of his previous effort. The result is one of the year’s most impressive and ambitious albums.
Opener ‘Farewell Sonata’ and its exquisite classical piano musings give way to shapeshifting structural changes that lay down a marker for what’s to come. The superb and enchanting single, ‘Phantom Of Aleppoville’ follows a similar pattern, beginning with a prolonged but expansive intro that is underscored by harpsichord-like arpeggios. When his vocals finally enter after two and a half minutes, it’s amidst anguished cries of “Oh leave me, oh leave me!”, set against a jarring, dark flamenco.
By comparison, the sumptuously breezy, piano led ‘By The Ports Of Europe’ and the crystalline ballad ‘Jupiter’ are relatively simple, but deceptively so. Clementine’s unmistakably expressive voice remains a thrilling constant throughout, his lyrics more pointed than ever before. It’s an LP that is littered with slight but wonderfully affecting touches and off-kilter ideas, such as the way the political charged ‘God Save The Jungle’ and its stuttering ending mimics the final notes our own national anthem.
Just like all the very best albums, ‘I Tell A Fly’ is by turns thought provoking, musically challenging and genre defying but perhaps more importantly, it imbues a sense of uniqueness that suggests you can’t imagine anyone else making it.
Words: Luke Winstanley
- - -
- - -
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.