Alex Clare - Lateness Of The Hour (Island)

22 Aug 2011

"The album is a bundle of styles and varying levels of hit and miss production, but there’s magic on Lateness Of The Hour that can’t be ignored"

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 I can’t help but feel that England’s swamped with well-dressed Englishmen in a scramble to be dubstep’s poster boy, but one hero that’s being overlooked – maybe because he’s not necessarily true to that genre – is former boyfriend of Amy Winehouse and general “I’ll play there” Camdenite, Alex Clare. When he reportedly turned down supporting Adele on tour due to his commitment to Judaism, there were rumors he’d be dropped and this album would never see the light of day. But Island stuck with him - as well as producers Diplo and Switch - long enough to see this random bag of pop, funk and heavy bass speedily put together. Even on it’s release though you could hear the ring of unanswered calls at Island as they tried to ignore the record.

 Despite years playing live around London with a one-man-and-his-Mac set up, there’s been precious little buzz around Alex Clare, and from the charmingly bold single ‘Up All Night’ finding its way to vinyl and Lateness Of The Hour getting its release date, it all seems rather a sped-up process, a kind of suck it and see for his label.

 In parts, Lateness is a little hard to understand, and harder still when you take the album as a whole. It seems to be all ideas and little substance; but it’s the ideas that do make this the brilliant, and sure to one day be acclaimed, debut record it is. It opens on the aforementioned ‘Up All Night’, an utterly foot-pounding, chaotic dance track that leaks venom and drive. It’s got a verse as fragile as a snow truck ploughing through a housing estate in Hull, set to a guitar sound dirtier than a student’s fridge door. Talk about opening tracks grabbing you by the scruff of your scrotum, this is nothing but power.

 There’s a similar, albeit less exciting, feel to ‘Treading Water’, which is there to buffer the gap nicely between the brick wall of ‘Up All Night’ and ‘Relax My Beloved’, which is what this record is really all about. This is what people miss when it comes to Alex Clare. At the heart of this record – and believe it, this record has heart – is a huge voice. One of the most significant, soulful and cinematic voices in British music today, and on ‘Relaxed My Beloved’ its allowed to properly spank the record’s arse raw.

 It’s annoying when that vibe is disrupted, but it’s no shame as next track ‘Too Close’ is another impossibly bassey belter, full of dub-whoof and burnt tweed. It’s ruggedly misleading, sneaking in a fleet of titanic drops, it coerces you into reaching for the Meow Meow. 

 The album then twitches itself back as absolute standout track ‘Hummingbird’ shows what Lateness could have sounded like if left more to the delicate arrangements of Clare. Again, it’s all about the vocals; stripped down production and more drama than a teenage girl out bra shopping with her dad. There’s a subtlety to it as well, a majestic simplicity that’s not quite reached on ‘Whispering’, which usually more than excels live.

 There’s still the real meat of this record to bite into though, and it’s ‘Hands Are Clever’ that offers itself up as an absolute steak. It’s like a half dead cow bleeding into your napkin. It’s fucking meat. What Alex Clare does with this track is show off his aptitude for classic, intelligent songwriting as the funk bus rolls into Stevie Wonder-sville without any hesitation. It’s uplifting party music that could backdrop the cider advert of your adolescence, taken one step further to a climactic hoorah with ‘Sanctuary’, the highlight track of this reviewers summer. It’s an unquestionably well thought and dryly delivered piece of music, as is the whole album, that throws nicely to Lateness’s close, and nod towards a Will Young style of modern soul, ‘I Won’t Let You Down.’

 The album is a bundle of styles and varying levels of hit and miss production, but there’s magic on Lateness Of The Hour that can’t be ignored.

The Lateness of the Hour by Alex Clare

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