Benjamin Clementine: At Least for Now

Benjamin Clementine's emotional cup runneth over... again and again.

Benjamin Clementine

At Least for Now

Label: Virgin EMI
US Release Date: 2015-07-31
UK Release Date: 2015-03-30
Label website

English singer/songwriter Benjamin Clementine has been making the rounds with a couple of appetizer EPs in preparation for the release of his debut album At Least for Now. It's made up of eleven originals, a handful of the carried over from the EPs, and it sounds like he died eleven times while making it. His piano style is relies on repetition to drive the sense of drama, but that's nothing compared to his voice. He uses it to stretch his range way up, take it back down low, warble at full force, pull it back to a soft moan and stop in the middle of a song to talk about angels.

The songs on At Least for Now run the gamut to extremely engaging to extremely overwrought. That's the risk you run when you invest time in an artist who cites Satie, Hendrix, and Pavarotti as influences while going out of his way to perform in bare feet. This endless capacity to deeply emote is Clementine's chief strength and weakness. Sometimes his lyrics are concise and get right to the heart of the matter. At other times, you will wonder what all of those crammed-tight syllables are trying to get across and why. Fortunately, Clementine has a knack for a good melody. First you have to make it past lines like "never in the field of human affection / Had so much been given for so few attention."

"Cornerstone" was the main attraction of one of Benjamin Clementine's previous EPs, and in it he is absolutely howling over his loneliness. He's "alone in a box of my own", but insists that it's his "home, home, home, home, home, home, home, home". The fact that each and every one of these "homes" comes to close to sounding like "hope" is probably another one of those little puzzles that Clementine feels is necessary for his listeners to decipher. But man, this is a fine waltz. He drapes the melody over the form as if it can't possibly fit in any other way. Piano and voice are all that's needed for "Cornerstone", but At Least for Now's other key moment is built with a tight arrangement. "London" is another extremely catchy and captivating song that might be about nothing -- or everything. Or a man who doesn't know who or what he is. "London London London is calling you" goes the soaring chorus, though "you" are probably not the one in this narrative. If you were, "London" would probably be about the city. But then you wouldn't be able to explain "on a road where Cleopatras comes and go like fishes caught in ponds thrown back for fun".

Don't go thinking that Benjamin Clementine represents only himself. He expresses the opposite fact in probably the most overreaching way possible on "The People and I": "And I write for the people and I / I speak for the people and I." He stops in the middle of "Adios", string ensemble included, to explain to you -- the listener -- how the melodies of angels sound. Actual angels. He even begs your pardon by saying "excuse me, to take your time..." before launching into a soft falsetto. It's a genuinely beautiful and musical moment, as lovely as it is odd.

Benjamin Clementine may have populist goals but his oblique sense of poetry is going to be an acquired taste for most. Couple that with his tortured voice and his climb will prove to be steeper still. Fortunately, Clementine's vocal histrionics come with a certain amount of skill -- a skill to sing his ass off. If his melodic gifts just weren't required to do so much heavy lifting, he could really take the singer/songwriter world by fire. At Least for Now -- I just realized how tenuous that title sounds!


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.