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The Clean is a powerful but nebulous presence in the world of indie rock -- the New Zealand band is known to music critics and die-hard indie fans, but sadly not to the masses. The fact that they are still little-known after two and a half decades is just proof that fame doesn't always come to those who deserve it.
The simply-named two-disc "Anthology" gives a suitably good retrospective of the Clean's career, in pretty much chronological order. One disc is devoted to their early work: the fun organ-laced garage-rock "Tally Ho," which was the song that propelled them to New Zealand's musical top, as well as the rough "Billy Two."
The rough, lo-fi pop continues changing in the second, which has the later music and some rarities. Starting with the Clean's reunion, it has such excellent (and eclectic) styles as jangly guitar rock, keyboard pop, and the Britpoppish flavors of "Secret Place" and "Diamond Shine." Surprisingly, the smoother production doesn't at all take away from the enjoyment of the music.
It's a pity that bands from New Zealand don't get the recognition that British or American bands do. If they did, the Clean would probably adored with Pavement and Radiohead. Sadly, they have not gotten that recognition, but that in no way reflects on their music -- this edgy, quirky rock is similar to the best of today's top indierock bands, but conceived years before those bands existed.
"Anthology" serves more than one function. It's two hours of fun, gloriously inventive rock'n'roll, but it also serves to illustrate how their sound expanded over time. The Clean started off with very little, which gave their music a fun, rough sound, but with new production and more money, they polished their sound up. Their music lost the innocent edge, in favor of musical maturity.
The songwriting is more than a little insane -- not that that's a bad thing. The Clean's music has a lovably unhinged edge, lovably jagged instrumentation and edgy sensibilities. There isn't a musical dull moment, with leader David Kilgour and his brother Hamish playing, respectively, guitar and drums. Bassist Robert Scott (later of the Bats) rounded off the group.
The Clean is practically guaranteed to capture an indie-rock-lover's heart, since it was an influence on bands like Yo La Tengo, Pavement and Sonic Youth. As a good overview of the band's two-decade-plus career, "Anthology" is good Clean fun.