Your Free Gift

David Clement

Show Dog Tunes, 2002

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I love New York.

Really, I do, even if I have lived my entire life on the left coast and am a notorious homebody. Thing is, I've been to New York a couple of times and gotten a tremendous buzz off just being there… the energy, the diversity, the badass big-city attitude… the whole place just feels like possibility made real. You can do whatever the hell you want in New York and no one's going to say "that's weird," 'cause it's just about guaranteed there's something weirder down the block or around the corner.

That makes it the perfect habitat for a singer-songwriter like David Clement. This is a fellow who's clearly not interested in settling on a homogenized sound and making a record that sticks to it. He's also not interested in mainstreaming his lyrics; this is sharp-witted art-rock all the way, with an avant-garde vibe that owes a huge debt to David Bowie.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Nowhere is this more evident than on the opener "noid noid," with its slightly off-kilter melody, lyric full of existential self-loathing and background vocals right out of Ziggy Stardust. Clement covers plenty of other musical territory before the album's over, though, showing flashes of Elvis Costello/Ramones angry-pop ("ahh," "delusion at last call"); somewhat spaced-out hard rock ("da boy," "the accoutrement"); and a surprising flair for R.E.M.-esque ballads with gently chiming guitars ("Sheba's death rattle," "the yard").

Clement's focus on these songs is very much on relationships, but in most cases the outlines are drawn with a kind of impressionistic obscurity, judiciously doling out situational details while remaining sufficiently enigmatic to make you listen carefully. When he does get specific, the results can be oddly touching, as in "geriatriphilia," with its sweetly sarcastic lyric and an organ tone that's lost in the no-man's-land between Hammond and Methodist.

Most of the time, though, his pen is tough on both himself and the lovers who float in and out of his narratives, such as the poor fellow in the stuttering, polyrhythmic "smells like a metaphor," who goes from being celebrated to eviscerated in just 2:09. (And yes, Clement is a gay songwriter who doesn't bother playing games with his pronouns.)

The guitar work, arrangements and production are tight throughout this album, both because Clement is supported by veteran players hailing from the likes of The Attractions, They Might Be Giants, and Alex Chilton, and because he's had so long to consider what these songs should sound like. They were originally recorded for release in 1998 as Clement's sophomore album on Mercury Records, but fell victim to the corporate takeover/music-business politics meat-grinder that chewed up so many intriguing acts at the end of the century.

On Your Free Gift Clement reclaims his songs and remakes them for a new century. And while the end result is far enough outside the mainstream that it's unlikely to find a home on modern rock radio, that's Middle America's loss. Quirky, adventurous and stubbornly intelligent, this album isn't for everyone... but neither is New York.

Rating: B+

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© 2003 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Show Dog Tunes, and is used for informational purposes only.