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"The Lateness of the Hour"

Alex Clare – The Lateness of the Hour
13 July 2011, 11:15 Written by

A handsome, middle-class, 20-something young man with a touch of enigma about him? Doing dubstep? With a somewhat ‘brave and interesting’ cover version? Stop me if you’ve heard this before….but James Blake this is not. More cocky, more bombastic, and more super-producers – this is Alex Clare. He’s been on the peripherals for the last year or so, racking up fans with support slots from everyone and anyone – Oh Land to Magnetic Man, playing the odd headline show, performing sessions, and of course a controversial cover version – Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. And just whilst he’s appearing at every festival on the map, he drops his album. No hype machine, no Guardian interview, but nonetheless an album that’s most certainly anticipated.

The Lateness of the Hour opens with a high-octane, hard hitting first half. Unashamedly bombastic, the filthy synths, guitar riffs and dancehall beats propel Alex Clare along on the secrets and salaciousness of an all-night bender and the morning after in ‘Up All Night’. The disjointed rhythms and jerky sounds, as well of suggestion of space in ‘Treading Water’ perfectly create the track’s uncertain atmosphere, along with the wonderfully conveyed headfuck in ‘Too Close’ – the swirling synths perfectly capture the feeling of opposing thoughts and confusion.

‘Relax my Beloved’ beautifully showcase Alex’s mouthful-of-pebbles, soulful voice, sitting him alongside the weak-at-the-knees effect of Ray LaMontagne, Damien Rice and other gravelly, folk heavyweights. This heartfelt but utterly self-assured affectionate plea employs man-scorned pop ballad techniques, along with industrial-sized futuristic synths for an incredibly dramatic effect.

It’s a full on bass assault lurching into dancehall, grunge, dubstep and everywhere in between. By track five you feel like you’ve been through one hell of a week through Mr Clare. But as the album hits half-way, things seem to get a little easier, and the Stevie Wonder-esque ‘Hands are Clever’ saunters in. It’s not hard to hear the massive influence Stevie Wonder has had on Alex Clare’s work, and this is a perfectly plausible homage to him – complete with a group vocal chorus. However, this track proves to be somewhat of a segue between slickness and insipidness. The tempo drops, and unfortunately so does the interest. The slower tracks take on a bog-standard r’n’b sound. Even Alex’s gravelly, folksy, weak-at-the-knees vocals can’t save much on the rest of the album – with lovesick ballads and what can only be described as filler.

Whilst the momentum of the earlier tracks is perhaps too much to keep up for an entire album, it makes the soppy, puppy-dog eyes ballads are all the harder to bear – particularly the simpering ‘Love You’ and watery ‘Whispering’. Not even the expert production of Diplo and Switch can redeems these tracks.

Alex Clare may not have the album-long stamina and prowess of James Blake, and indeed the comparisons go little beyond their premise rather than the music. At his best Alex delves further into the past, and beyond into the future to create something that’s quintessentially a soundtrack to the present. It’s possibly his embracing of so many genres that lets him down, but there are incredible flashes or promise here that he’ll hopefully continue to deliver on.

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