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CLOWwNS – The Artful Execution Of Macho Bimbo

The Artful Execution of Macho Bimbo is Clowwns long anticipated début album – for those of us who have been following the bands exploits for a while it has been a long wait but press play and this album wastes no time getting straight to the point. 'She Says I'm A Clown' and 'Trousers' provide a splendid opening salvo. A perfect snapshot of what we expect the band to do, jagged riffs and screaming lead lines from guitarist Andrew Claridge, his hand never far from the tremolo arm of his Jazzmaster; tight, taught fuzz bass-lines from towering bassist Étienne Rhodes; insistent, exuberant tub-thumping from their much-in-demand drum maestro Damo Waters; and declarative, passionate vocals from Miles Heathfield – forever balancing precariously on the tightrope edge of manic but never quite tumbling in. These first first two tracks were perfect singles for the album and both found their respective champions on 6 Music – full of the power, pace and immediacy that the band have become well known for, superbly captured on record for posterity.

'Bow-Legged Man' is the first song I'm not overly familiar with from their live shows, it rolls in with a certain bluster, bounce and cowboy swagger before hitting a chorus that seems to turn the whole song on it's head, thanks largely to a fine backing vocal arrangement with counter-point melodies and an atmospheric top-note sailing above. The track sort of falls apart – but elegantly, like a posh practised drunk – then reassembles for one last blast before the fiercely tight fuzz bass-line of 'Love Vigilante' takes centre stage. This has been my favourite song by the group for a while and on record it does not disappoint, the nods towards disco suck me in, but it's the dark atmosphere and strong melodic core that keeps me coming back for more and there's plenty more on offer as this song stretches out to nearly seven minutes, seeming to reveal more and more of itself with each listen. Next up 'X' is a fantastic surprise, when the first few bars come in led by a plinking piano and acoustic guitar strum I find myself momentarily thinking that somehow a different band has snuck onto my stereo. It's Miles' vocal that brings back the familiarity and a surprise chord shift in the verse that reassures me I'm still in Clowwns town. Things pick up with a lovely flourish of trumpet and some screaming guitars in the middle but it's all over in just over two minutes. A brief respite before the lean, mean chromatic garage rock riffs of 'Looking For a Fool' kick in, returning us to that pure fearsome energy, seemingly driven by an unhealthy level of coulrophobia.

'Macho Bimbo' is another epic and idiosyncratic tune, upon which the band have achieved the odd symmetrical feat of reaching the exact same 6:39 length as 'Love Vigilante'. The opening few bars sound like they're going to be rock-steady garage-rock – reminiscent of a Le Tigre track I've heard on plenty of alternative dance-floors – but then the tempo shifts and a strange riff comes in that feels like it is designed to work as a grandiose outro with Heathfield shouting out his lyrics like a tourist guide pointing out the sights while you're being rowed down the river styx into hell. These two sections roll into each other several times with increasing intensity until the end when the guitars and drums go off on ever more manic, explosive tangents as they fade-out whilst subtleties rise in the distance, including a mournful Mariachi trumpeter.

'We Came To Laugh' is another surprise, the gentlest song on the album with sparse rolled cymbals for percussion. There's a clever chord progression and a sinister melody filled with mystery that borders on the arabesque. For some reason this song vaguely reminds me of the sentiment of The Bee Gees 'I Started A Joke'; the tragic and the comic make for excellent bed-fellows throughout this album. When the guitars and keyboards rise up and the sound fills out there's a glorious combination of perfect musical arrangement delivered with wilful messiness. Next up 'Idiot Bouncing' returns us to the blueprint of energetic, dark garage rock, this was the bands début single and it sounds great here. 'Shame On You' follows, another favourite from the live shows, it's up-tempo again with atmospheric melodies and a beat that barely lets up. It's another one-two punch of speedy dark rock, which constantly seem to be pulling us back and forth between the deliberate dumbness of American style garage rock with that quintessentially English combination of dark humour and idiosyncratic musical choices. 'Terror In The Big Top' is the perfect closer for the album, beginning with tremolo soaked guitar and a more restrained vocal it builds to ever darker crescendo’s. There's a little hint of circus oom-pah to it's rhythm, only drenched in terror, as Heathfield repeats “to dip my toes” backed by horrendously high satanic choral voices.

This is a fantastic album, it plays to the strengths we already knew the band have from their singles, as well as treating us to some deeper, more complex arrangements without ever losing it's pulse and purpose. My only disappointment is that I've not been able to pick out all of the lyrics, although I wouldn't necessarily fault Heathfield's delivery or the mix – it all hangs together beautifully. Being the geek I am I'd just like to sit and listen to it with a lyric book* in in my lap so I can pick out some of the complexities I suspect are going on. This is undoubtedly a brilliant album and you should indeed buy it, but may I offer a word of caution before you immerse yourself in the world of Clowwns too deeply – these jesters may seem dumb at times, they may make us swoon with moments of musical slap-stick but there has to be something wrong with a man who has to paint on his smile each day. This album is full of a dark sort of mania that is worryingly alluring – I'm left thinking perhaps we are the Clowwns here, smiling inanely on the outside, weeping within, terrified that the joke is on us.
Adam Kidd

*Album was reviewed via online stream, it has been brought to our attention the CD and limited vinyl editions (available from Bleeding Heart Recordings) do come with printed lyrics.




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