2015 saw poet Benjamin Clementine break through with his debut album, ‘At Least For Now’. Revered for the boldness of its lyrics and the dramatics of Clementine’s performance, the album gave us insight into Clementine’s character. The Londoner’s booming voice was propped up mainly by a piano, as his unquestioned eccentricity told vivid tale after vivid tale. Clementine might be one of the most believable singer-songwriters in the world, from homelessness to busking in Paris, the power behind his words will always appear stronger than most others; his backstory has allowed him to develop a unique, powerful sense of intelligence, one that continues on new album ‘I Tell a Fly’.
A lot of Clementine’s writing on ‘I Tell a Fly’ sees him explore, quite literally, various isolated and direct international dilemmas, whether personal or on a large scale. For the former, ‘Jupiter’ tells the story of Clementine being referred to as an “alien” on his American Visa, making the writer feel like nothing more than an outsider. ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ sees Clementine creatively compare children’s experiences with bullying to the trauma they may face in Syria, as many choose not to question it. ‘By the Ports of Europe’ alludes to the migrant crisis, and ‘Paris Cor Blimey’ explores Francophilia, with a clever tongue-twister approach. The subtlety of Clementine’s poetry often comes in handy, and his dark, soulful voice gives new flavour to the decor and determination of his words.
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You could dedicate an entire 1000-word review to the beauty of Benjamin Clementine’s voice. With Disney Villain delivery, his performances on ‘I Tell a Fly’ actually make ‘At Least For Now’ seem relaxed, which is appropriate as this album is a lot more conceptual. Opening track ‘Farewell Sonata’ sees Clementine respond to a beautiful piano instrumental by wailing in falsetto, before launching his voice over the music, like a preacher. It’s strangely dignified, and it sets the stage for Clementine’s capabilities, emotional but never verklempt. ‘God Save the Jungle’, much like ‘Quintessence’ and closer ‘Ave Dreamer’, is like a theatrical performance, like he’s bellowing out into an audience from a stage.
There are so many details and moments of beauty on ‘I Tell a Fly’, it’s very hard to outline them all. It’s worth mentioning that Clementine did produce the album himself, and while a little under-mixed in places, he didn’t do a bad job at all, particularly with little things like the chambered choral section chanting over a harpsichord in ‘Awkward Fish’ and the intro to ‘Ave Dreamer’. The album also does a great job at bouncing from one genre to another, from pop to soul to baroque.
‘I Tell a Fly’ is even more rewarding than ‘At Least For Now’, perhaps a bit too ghoulish for those not used to having their songwriters cackle in the face of rudimentary storytelling, and maybe even too comical, but there is so much strength to Benjamin Clementine’s character that it’s hard not to be thrilled by this stylistic rollercoaster. The album is soulful, haunting, oozing with intelligent songwriting, and as Clementine says on ‘Ave Dreamer’, “that’s about it really”.
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‘I Fell a Fly’ is out September 29th 2017 via Virgin EMI. The albums full track listing is as follows…
01. Farewell Sonata
02. God Save The Jungle
03. Better Sorry Than A Safe
04. Phantom of Aleppoville
05. Paris Cor Blimey
07. Ode From Joyce
08. One Awkward Fish
09. By The Ports Of Europe
11. Ave Dreamer
You can see Benjamin Clementine at one of the following venues…
12 Kyiv, UKR, The October Palace
13 Moscow, RUS, Izvestia Hall
15 Vilnius, LIT, The Hall Compensa
16 Poznan, POL, MTP2 Hall
18 Hamburg, GER, Elbphilharmonie
19 Munich, GER, Philharmonie Munchen
20 Koln, GER, Kolner Philharmonie
21 Berlin, GER, Berliner Philharmonie
22 Dortmund, GER, Konzerthaus Dortmund
25 Brussels, BEL, Cirque Royal
27 Luxembourg, LUX, Philharmonie Luxenbourg
28 Rotterdam, NED, De Doelen
30 Brighton, UK, Dome Concert Hall
01 Birmingham, UK, Town Hall
03 Leeds, UK, O2 Academy
04 Manchester, UK, The Ritz
05 London, UK, Brixton Academy
06 Gateshead, UK, Sage
08 Bristol, UK, Colston Hall
18 Milan, ITA, Teatro Degli Arcimboldi