Hot on the heels of the string laden, uplifting soul of ‘Rather Be’ and the equally catchy ‘Extraordinary’, UK pop-house quartet Clean Bandit have somehow managed to produce a debut album of radio friendly, summertime synth infused pop that fails to live up to their early promise. “So you think electronic music is boring, you think it’s stupid, it’s repetitive, it tells us over a repetitive electronic beat”, a robotic voice flatly lectures us at the beginning of ‘Mozart’s House’. Not even the introduction of a classical string arrangement by Mozart himself makes their attempt at irony effective.
Given the fact the band began as a group of college mates from the University of Cambridge, two of which were actually leads in a string quartet, out of the gate this feels like a long running college dare gone awry – as if during an anti-establishment rant one Monday night in the collage bar they put a bet down on how far they’d get paddling nonsense lyrics mashed with house beats and mixed with classical strings just to add a whiff of credibility. When ‘Rather Be’ hit the UK number one spot, maybe they decided all bets were off and they should take this music lark seriously.
‘Dust Clears’ is one such musical dichotomy. Using their classical background, the band take the time to write what could have been a fully formed and fleshed out string piece, and a respectably funky baseline, then bizarrely loop it around interchanging male and female computerized vocals. Simply delete the vocals and this might have worked better. But a lesson in the concept of less is more could be worth learning for CB. It’s a shame that the string intro of ‘A+E’ continues only to reveal a fairly unimaginative dance tune and lyrical drivel like “I make heat when I tweet; I’m the real Mc Coy”. Clean Bandit’s clear intention is to make fun music for the dance floor and as such maybe it doesn’t need to be any more profound, but music is always a platform so why not make a statement, any statement, if you’ve got the chance.
‘Birch’, featuring Eliza Shaddad, however throws the rest of the album out the window in one foul swoop and shows the true potential of this band when they’re not trying to be clever. With ethereal vocals, organic melodies and those signature strings, something quite beautiful emerges like a sweet surprise as the album comes to a close. This juxtaposed with the Super Mario Brothers inspired outro only hammers home the fact there are too many pieces in this puzzle that don’t quite fit. Both positive and negative elements are scattered throughout this album, good ideas are in there but are let down by their execution and the bad ideas, like most bad ideas, are left there because Clean Bandit probably just know no better.