Review Summary: Pop crooning and electronic effects collide into a muddled wreck on Alex Clare's debut album.
Combining genres has always been risky business. We’ve heard it all: rap and rock, dance and R&B, even latin and metal. But with the rise of electronica as a major genre of popular interest, everyone’s been trying to mix in new styles with this genre. UK crooner Alex Clare
has been making large waves in the pop field lately. His combination of soulful singing and electronica-based production effects has launched the UK songwriter into the Top 40 stratosphere. But ignore his song’s appearance on Internet Explorer commercials for a second. When it comes right down to it, Clare has two separate musical loves controlling his debut album, The Lateness of the Hour
. Alex Clare’s vocals are smooth and bluesy at first, but behind his completely tolerable voice is a mix of soul and grubby electronica that just don’t fit well together.
Blending soul vocals with dubstep and electronica isn’t anything new, but neither Alex Clare’s slick vocals nor the experimental drum n’ bass production get to shine on The Lateness of the Hour
. Clare has a good voice, one that has already proven to be pop gold for the singer. His loves of classic soul like Stevie Wonder and pop stylishness like Prince are a heavy influence on his singing groove. Still, among many other similar vocalists like Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys or even Steve Ewing of The Urge, Alex Clare’s breathy singing sounds more imitative than groundbreaking. His slides and crows show some vocal virtuosity, but aside from a few single-worthy instances like “Up All Night”, don’t stand out nearly enough as they should.
The electronica elements aren’t too bad either, but do nothing to blend in with Clare’s groovy wail. In the massive pop hit “Too Close”, the artist croons over loud, fluctuating dubstep effects which get boring very quickly. In “Sanctuary” and “I Love You”, in what could’ve been a serene flow of atmospheric balladry, Clare can’t help but insert loud, intrusive effects. Not only that, but the lackluster tracks like “Whispering” are written with no real sense of structure or hookiness, only serving to once again enforce the complete sense of incongruity between Clare’s voice and the heavier electronica effects. This just doesn’t add up with Clare’s success in the pop market, one where hooks are the name of the game.
Despite these problems, Clare still manages to make a few solid songs on The Lateness of the Hour
. “Hands are Clever” is a stunning example of how his soulful singing doesn’t need to be shoved under lackluster production to be a hit. The piano-driven tracks like “I Won’t Let You Down” may sound a bit by-the-book, but they actually let Clare’s songwriting skill show. Also, when the production elements are more subtle, more textured and less in-your-face (like in the minimalist “Damn Your Eyes”) you can almost see what Clare was trying to accomplish with this album. Those steady blends of vocals and lighter electronica production are where The Lateness of the Hour
truly sounds alive, where it really feels complete and ambitious. But the two sides of Clare’s coin are constantly at a tug-o-war with each other, pulling back and forth between a muddy, unappealing grey area.
Instead of sounding like a gentle brew of Clare’s crooning and spacey, drum n’ bass production, The Lateness of the Hour
sounds like two completely different albums being played atop one another. Aside from a few exceptions, Clare’s debut album is composed of schizophrenic mish-mashes of his two main musical loves instead of crisp, steady combinations. Dubstep and clean, bluesy vocals can work together well, but Clare’s indecisive songwriting makes both sides feel shirked and underutilized. Alex Clare desperately needs to figure out what he really wants to do with his style for his next musical endeavor, because The Lateness of the Hour
sounds incredibly pedestrian, both as a pop vocals album and as a dance/electronica project.