The Clientele

Suburban Light (Merge)

While the federal government tackles the complex moral issues of human cloning, the Clientele raises the theological question, "Does the clone have the same soul as the original?" This London-based trio, which sounds as if it sprung from the DNA of some forgotten '60s guitar band, offers a brand of appealingly melancholy pop that might just surpass that of its forebears.

Like the albums of British Invasion hit-makers of the past, the Clientele's first domestic LP is a collection of singles. Recorded over the last three years, the songs on Suburban Light are filled with dark moods and sweeping melodies that put most of today's '60s-aping groups to shame. Tracks like "Reflections After Jane" feature strained falsetto vocals, thick reverb effects, and weepy guitar solos, tied together in wonderfully subdued arrangements (often, the guitars, bass, and drums are barely a mumble). And just when the music threatens to blend into a murky blur, Alasdair Maclean's ragged-then-velvety vocals instill notes of urgency and wanton longing.

Despite some psychedelic tinges (like the backward guitar on "I Had to Say This"), the Clientele steers clear of flower-power trappings, instead channeling the wistful jazz-inflected pop of Love and the Zombies. This introspective vibe is reflected in the water-soaked lyrics as well. "Five Day Morning" features estranged lovers "walking our dogs in the rain," while "Rain" brings further showers down upon chiming guitars. With "Monday's Rain" the group places itself in the continuum of jangling bands -- the Mamas and the Papas, the Jam, and, uh, the Bangles -- fashioning odes to the start of the week.

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The Clientele's damp sound and mood are nothing new. Still, when the music sounds this good, it's hard to dismiss it as unoriginal. For sheer listening pleasure, Suburban Light is as enjoyable as any record made in '66 or '01. Now, if they can only clone people this well.

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