After a wonderfully soulful debut in 2015, the not quite jazz, pop or rock – piano based singer songwriter Benjamin Clementine has gone for his own route of art piano rock for his follow-up. “I Saw A Fly” has flashes of pure brilliance in among some of the more unhinged moments of musical madness you’ll find this year. I’m not sure I get it – but I’m glad it’s here.
“Farewell Sonata” opens with such a calming piano piece that soon turns into a Queen like explosion of triumphant voice. Vocoders, harpsichords, drums and bass all rattle as Benjamin’s versatile vocal range snarls and bellows. No sooner has it rattled the cage, an epic spacious closing piano lullaby rolls in and away again. This kind of jarring juxtaposition crops up time and again. “God Save the Jungle” is superb. It’s Afrobeat nuances underlay rolling piano with harpsichord embellishments. It allows Benjamin’s vocals shine with an epic climax and to introduce you to his penchant for putting on theatrical voices and dialects. In fact theatre is something this album has in spades – and this is one of the best examples of the circus cabaret.
“Better Sorry Than Asafe” pushes the Rufus Wainwright buttons with some excellent musical arrangements. Whilst harpsichords and drums roll on, a backing vocal arrangement pushes a more African vibe and the two mix really well together. It gives the album such a unique tone and voice. There’s a lyrical theme throughout which refers to being or feeling like an alien, and the alien has its own weird little voice that speaks out throughout. The album itself is alien in arrangement and tone and is superb for that. “Phantom of Aleppoville” is a hazy jazzy number and after the extended outro from the last track and extended intro here, it’s a superb musical section which ends in a marching band of Clementine’s voice mimicking a shouting ghost and throat singing styled growling to make up the melody. It’s absolutely nuts. At first I loved it, then I hated it, and now I’m starting to love it again. I think this complex relationship encompasses my feeling on the album as a whole! The track itself is really free form too – after that is the most sweetest and sumptuous soft piano section before a horror movie gospel finale rounds it all off. Erm… what? The craziness continue with the abstract jazz “Paris Cor Blimey” that is part kooky b-movie horror soundtrack, part French dance and the lyrics speak of a lost pen. It’s ripe for a send up and also a theatre performance.
“Jupiter” returns us strangely back to a somewhat standard track with a lovely alt-pop track with upbeat chill out vibes as the alien goes off on a space journey. It’s cute, endearing and something you’d sing “Ben is an alien” along to in the chorus. At least I think that’s the lyric – that’s what I’ve been singing! “Ode From Joyce” follows a very similar chord pattern and style to Tori Amos’ “Give” but with a soul edge to it. It’s dark, but reserved and quiet for the most part but wows with its final section being nearly entirely vocal only. After moderate standard tracks “One Awkward Fish” continues the random subject matters as fast drums, frenzied bass go nuts as Benjamin sings a completely different song over the top – it then breaks down for a choral drone for the chorus before kicking back up again. It takes a few listens to really appreciate it. However the absolutely endearing “The Ports of Europe” is like a chirpy early 1900’s seaman shanty being placed over an Elton John song. It’s catchy, fun and then the common accent of English pops in for the laughs. It’s an absolute stand out track. Closing the album is the magical “Quintessence” with rolling dreamy piano letting Clementine’s voice ring all the emotion out of the piece before “Ave Dreamer” wakes you out of that dream for a kooky and strange party finale that showcases everything the album’s had before it in style.
As I said up front, there’s still bits to the album I’m not sure I understand or get. It’s a fantastic concept and crammed with originality – and for that I utterly salute it. I can see this being an all time favourite album a few years down the line as it’s one of those difficult albums you’ll end up treasuring in the long run. Barmy but brilliant.
Recommended Track : God Save The Jungle