My teenage daughter’s banter knows no limits. Upon noting I was wearing a logoed T-shirt the Swindon sound system “Mid Life Krisis” kindly sent, she responded thus; “you can’t wear that, you’re too old for a midlife crisis!” There comes a time in life when you have to cut your losses, realise there’s no longer a point in assessing prospects and goals, and getting upset you failed to reach them. The anguish of youth is but a fleeting memory, and you’re numb to life, rather than wallowing in self-pity you’re neither here nor there on achievements and failures, simply plodding on worrying more about earwax or teeth issues.
It’s the reason I absorb indie-rock with a squint, but then I’ve never felt like barging through pedestrians like Richard Ashcroft, ignorant to the fact others have issues far outreaching my own. I cannot abide themes of despair and downright dark subject matter without reasonable motive; they do nothing to cheer me up. Music from my childhood spat rebellious notions that the world was shit, then electronica came and we went off into the fields and warehouses waving our arms in the air, throwing our troubles away. There was never despair on the rave scene, no woeful self-analysis and no political tirade, until they came for us.
Yet to expect a thoroughly negative review from me is rare, and for the debut album of Mike Clerk, The Space Between my Ears, I have to confess it does what it says on the tin, and does it very well. There’s thoughtful prose, if rather negatively, but it doesn’t trudge on as my niggling criticisms over much indie; at times there’s uplifting riffs, but the theme is unfortunately despondent. Has Mike never heard of the “every cloud” idiom?
Many, say younger people, will love this with bells on, though, and for that much this is a damn fine album, if not my cup of tea. See, I like it when our George Wilding does melancholy in a pub, because he does it so well. Heck, the guy even bought me to reconsidering the worth of Radiohead! And similarly, there’s a tinge of euphoria in the way this former frontman of The Lost Generation, plays this out, musically. Lyrically I was left waiting for the silver lining, which simply doesn’t arrive, and this does nothing for maintaining my interest.
The proficiency and skill on show here is top dollar, Clerk has a blinding pedigree of experience in the music industry; the band played exclusive gigs for the NME, Alan McGee’s Death Disco club nights, and Clerk had a close call with guitar duties for Primal Scream. A GoFundMe campaign put the ball in motion for his solo career, The Space Between My Ears was the result, released yesterday (26th March.)
Written and recorded almost-entirely by Clerk at his own home studio, additional drum sessions took place at the local YMCA in Kirkcaldy. With contributions from sound-engineer Alan Ramsey, the album was mastered by Pete Maher of whom has the likes of The Rolling Stones, U2, and Paul Weller on his résumé. This stamp of professionalism shows through in the rewarding sound.
I’m supposing lockdown has bought a natural movement towards misery. Clerk’s words inspired by isolation and the endless roll of apocalyptic news, flow aptly into these themes of redemption, mental health and addiction. If here’s alt-rock’s mainstay, the desolation of unhappiness, I’m going to criticise it. Yes, The Space Between My Ears delivers an acute and perfected mind-set of the human psyche, but like watching a perpetual boxset of EastEnders, it does nothing to turn that frown upside down. And for me, there’s a crucial element to life sorely missing here. Laughter is the best medicine, even if it’s insane giggling like The Joker.
Yet I confess, I like the blues, I like how every morning Muddy Waters wakes up his woman is gone and his dog has died, I crave his misfortune. There’s something beguiling in that authentic twangy guitar sound, which the electric drone of cantankerous indie or alt.rock doesn’t appeal in quite the same manner. Not for me at any rate, but if it does for you, I would ignore the bleating rant of a grouch who’s watching fifty rush over a mountain swiftly towards him, as this album divinely flows and clearly has perfected the art of it!
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