by Mike Faloon
Five Four-O Records
The Clean are a great band. The Clean sound like the best Kinks, Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd. The Clean are so well regarded that their outtakes record, Odditties, has just been released for the third time.
In its original incarnation, Oddities, which rounds up 22 bits and pieces recorded in the band’s early days (’80-‘82), was a pair of cassettes released by the band. Twelve years later, in 1994, Oddities was released on CD by Flying Nun Records. Now it’s on vinyl for the first time courtesy of Five Four-O Records.
But is it worth it? I have the other Clean records. I listen to them regularly. I’m always hoping for more Clean releases. Given the band’s release schedule — 5 full-length studio records in 30 years — this happens infrequently. The prospect of a double album’s worth of new (to me) Clean material made me giddy. But I wanted to know if it was worth tracking down Oddities. How many of these songs were on other records or merely different mixes of songs I already knew.
I searched online for the details. A simple breakdown of the songs. The best I found was a review that said if the Merge collection left you wanting more than Oddities was worth seeking out. I agree, though I’d qualify that assessment: If the Merge Records collection (Anthology, 2002) left you craving more, and you already own all of the Clean’s other records, then you can expect to find a couple more battered diamonds among the rough.
Then I thought that maybe, just maybe, someone sought this information, someone else wanted to have a song-by-song breakdown of Oddities. After all, one doesn’t write about ‘80s New Zealand underground rock bands in the hopes of finding a wide audience, right?
Oddities – The Clean – A Listener’s Guide
“Odditty” – It’s the least odd ditty on the collection. It’s fantastic. It’s also available on the Merge collection, Anthology.
“Success Story” – good tune. Otherwise unreleased.
“Thumbs Off” – alternate take of a song from Anthology. Sounds a bit faster. Guitar accents might be different too. Doesn’t eclipse the other version.
“Getting Older” – alternate take. The bass seems higher in the mix. The guitar break seems different too. I don’t usually care much for different versions. No exception here.
Final tally for side one: 1 new song
“Yellow Man” – promising start, then a call to “slow it down, slow it down.” Doesn’t recover from there. Otherwise unreleased.
“End of My Dream” – alternate take. Acoustic version.
“Platypus” – alternate take. This one’s also an acoustic take, but a worthy one. The guitar’s too high and the amp buzz at the end nearly swamps the boat, but the band steers the tune in a whole different direction. This one I like a lot.
“This Guy” – a flash of a song, a sketch. Otherwise unreleased.
“David Bowie” – Otherwise unreleased. Probably had a fun time running through this one at rehearsal: David Bowie/Where did you go?/David Bowie/Whoa oh oh.
“Mudchucker Blues” – Previously unreleased. Gobs of distortion. A bluesy goof.
Final tally for side two: lots of new songs, one worth seeking out
“At the Bottom” – like “Odditty” an excellent tune, but also on the Merge collection.
“Hold Onto the Rail” – short take: this is a disappointing version of a wonderful song. Long take: “Rail” was also recorded by the Clean’s side project, the Great Unwashed. Then it was covered by Uncle Wiggly for a Clean tribute record (Cleaned Out!). Way too much echo on the vocals, which is a shame because there’s a different guitar line weaving in and out. Okay, maybe I do enjoy the occasional alternate take. Just not this one.
“Inside Out” – Otherwise unreleased. Another one of the gems. Acoustic guitar, tambourine, nice melody. The vocals sound slightly higher pitched. Kind of remind of me of James Cahill from Kung Fu Monkeys.
“Fats Domino” – Otherwise unreleased. Blues riff with tambourine and warm if tempered admiration for Mr. Blueberry Hill. All right, this one.
“Sad Eyed Lady” – Alternate take. Heaps of echo on the guitar. Reminds me of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy.” Never much cared for “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” Did Kramer produce this one?
Final tally for side three: let’s call it two tunes
“Tell Me Why” – Creepy crawly take on the Bo Diddley beat. Wisely cut off mid-tune.
“In the Back” – Massive feedback. Obliterates the tune that’s buried beneath. A close call but swerving into the “keeper” pile. (This one’s also on the recently released Flying Nun collection Time to Go – The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-86.)
“Band That Never Was” – Otherwise unreleased. Sounds like the boom box was placed directly in front of the guitar amp. This one loses me.
“Wheels of Industry” – Otherwise unreleased. More of a noisy transition than a proper song, a middle without a start or finish.
“Point That Thing Dub” – alternate take. The original is one of the Clean’s best. This version inverts it to good effect—the guitar melody is nearly submerged and the beat is on top. Well, more like splashes of echo where the beat would be. I think they call these “reimaginings” now.
“Safety at Home” – Otherwise unreleased. Another sketch of a tune, this time an instrumental. Too bad there’s not more guitar. Half credit here.
“Lemming” – Otherwise unreleased. Sounds like a first pass at a possibly cool pop tune. Half credit here too.
“Stylaphone Music” – Otherwise unreleased. The start of an experimental tune, kind of like something Raymond Scott would have cooked up. Abandoned too early. What’s with all the half credits here on side four? Wait, this is an outtakes record. One that started out as a cassette sold at live shows. Enter it with such expectations and you’ll have yourself a decent time, thought you’ll likely be left wanting to hear the band’s other records.
Final tally for side four: four
Final tally for Odditties: 8 of 23 – How much do you dig the Clean? How much do you need to have tunes on vinyl? Those are the factors to weigh, right?