As the Ramones were to the New York scene and the Sex Pistols were to the UK scene, the Clean is to New Zealand. It may not have been the first band of its stripe in its native land, but it was one of the first to play original material, and its bracing, drone-laden, yet cheery whiplash sound helped to establish the NZ musical scene sometimes known as “Kiwi-pop.”
The Clean began with the Kilgour brothers, David and Hamish, and Robert Scott (who would later go on to form the Bats) in 1978. The basis of its sound was and would be a tangy blend of lovably shambling harmonies, bittersweet ’60s garage-band melodicism (à la both Nuggets box sets), and terse, hook-laden reverb strums.
This generous retrospective (44 tracks on 2 CDs) presents a comprehensive picture of the band, complete with the usual smattering of previously unreleased live tracks and long-out-of-print items that make collector-types all warm and fuzzy. Their first single “Tally Ho” is here, a raw, giddily upbeat carnival-organ-driven rocker, as is “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” a pounding, swirling mantra evoking both the minimalist work of Philip Glass and the VU’s “What Goes On.” As time went on, the band refined its sound. 1994’s melancholy “Trapped in Amber” has echoes of the Searchers, and ’96’s sultry “Indigo Blue” combines shimmering blues-tinged slide guitar with wraithlike vocals.
One of the things that makes the Clean so endearing, aside from its ability to craft the right riff and its gleeful way of hammering said riff into the brain, is its utter lack of rock ‘n’ roll attitude. The musicians don’t sound like they’re trying to hold on to their “youth” after the fact, nor do they sound relentlessly dour. The band made and continues to make fun, touching, and brainy stuff. How many bands formed in the punk glory days of 1978 can say that?