The Clean Mister Pop

[Merge; 2009]

Styles: New Zealand rock, indie pop
Others: The Chills, Velvet Underground, Blank Dogs, Bailter Space, Yo La Tengo

The early 90s are so in that it’s in to sound like the bands that early-90s bands wanted to sound like. New Zealand’s archetypal rock act The Clean proved inspirational once upon a late-80s scenecubator, and their karmic wheel has swung round again, with all sorts of new acts rising from the lo-fi muck to assume the mantle of kiwi rock. The fresh Mister Pop could be a chance for the trio to reassert their rightful place in the pantheon of the insufficiently lauded.

The first half, however, is mostly a limp disappointment. The aimless instrumental opener “Loog” sees the band messing with synth and vocoder effects that really should have been left to the kids and -- whether it's due to bigger studio budgets, more accessible technology, or the lure of novelty -- echoes empty as a clean, well-lighted storage locker. Meanwhile, “Are You Really On Drugs” and “Asleep In The Tunnel” slouch along on absentminded, loping strumming, the latter with a couple of entry-level Byrds-y psych riffs that could have turned interesting if the dead bridge didn’t hobble them.

“In The Dreamlife You Need Another Soul” sounds more like one side of classic Clean, upbeat and aggressively melodic, while “Back in the Day” recalls another, a sort of “far out, man” chord pattern and folky lead over some light guitar noise. Both have a little more gloss and a little less inspiration, but are pleasant listening nonetheless.

The band starts to slide back into serious form in the back half, oddly enough, with “Moonjumper,” one of their old VU-as-played-by-the-krauts extended instrumental workouts of driving noise folk. “Factory Man” sounds like a successful Kinks rip, and a rare instance here of the band letting its sense of humor show, while “Simple Fix” is another light, slight instrumental. But penultimate track “Tensile” is the real standout, a knockout hook or two or three that make good on the unfulfilled electronic promise of the opener to incorporate a vocodered vocal that makes the band sound like they've suddenly stepped into New Order’s game or one of their own omnivorous young disciples.

Ultimately, though, Merge’s 2003 Anthology remains the only Clean you need (and you need it; it's a rare accomplishment for a double-CD package). And if you're looking for a late-game album, 2001’s Getaway is the way to go. Sure, Mister Pop might be of interest to fanboys and a few others, but it makes a less convincing case for why new listeners should care about these guys.

1. Loog
2. Are You Really On Drugs?
3. In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul
4. Asleep In the Tunnel
5. Back In the Day
6. Moonjumper
7. Factory Man
8. Simple Fix
9. Tensile
10. All Those Notes

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