by Mike Faloon
Vehicle and In-a-Live 2 x LP
Flying Nun / Captured Tracks
Punk’s influence on the New Zealand pop of the ‘80s, specifically the bands on Flying Nun Records, is logical if not always obvious. In-a-Live—a five-song live EP recorded in 1988—is an amazing exception.
These songs are familiar to fans of the Clean’s early material (disc one on the Merge collection, Anthology) I’ve never heard them rendered quite like this. The tempos feel a notch faster. The low end—Robert Scott’s bass and Hamish Kilgour’s kick drum—are a bit higher in the mix. As a result the songs have more drive, more thump, without diminishing David Kilgour’s guitar leads. In-a-Live is a brilliant disc compromised only by its brevity. At five songs and 14 minutes I’m left wondering about—craving to hear—the rest of the set.
And yet In-a-Live is merely the appetizer. The main course being a reissue of 1990’s Vehicle. Vehicle presents the same elements as the live EP but in an altered mix. The vocals are higher, the lyrics easier to decipher. (Well, at least it’s easier to make out the words. I’ve never been adept at making out the meanings of Clean songs.)
Despite coming ten years and X releases into the Clean’s career, Vehicle was the band’s full-length debut. Released on Rough Trade, it was also their first relatively easy to find record in the U.S. Vehicle served as both a culmination of the previous decade and an introduction to a new audience.
The trio traveled to London to record with Alan Moulder who’d recently engineered the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Automatic. According to David Kilgour’s liner notes Moulder wasn’t around much but that hardly seems to have impacted the band or subsequent record. They’d been touring extensively and uncorked gem after gem, putting a bit more polish on their sound without dulling their impact. Few bands appreciate the sound of an intensely strummed electric guitar quite like the Clean and this is on display throughout Vehicle. Is it layers of deceptively clever tracks or merely one or two? (Kilgour’s liner notes also contain this rarity: “Rough Trade was great to us.” A musician actually—explicitly—satisfied with a record label.)
Vehicle (the Clean’s best long player) + In-a-Live + liner notes from all three band members + art work from both releases = highest recommendation.