A cheeky riff on the Beatles’ White Album, Cleaners From Venus frontman Martin Newell’s second solo album from 1995 is a sophisticated follow-up to the critically-acclaimed The Greatest Living Englishman. Produced by él Records fixture Louis Philippe and featuring XTC’s Dave Gregory on guitar, it’s a vivid snapshot of Newell’s life with a French chanson-inspired ease.
A longtime fan of French music, Newell sought a Gallic quality on this record - with the vocal riding at the top of the mix, rather than blurred under indie-rock guitars, as was common at the time. Philippe was happy to oblige. The effect is a clarity of both form and content - on “Arcadian Boys,” Newell’s impassioned voice careens over a heartbreaking string quartet (arranged by Philippe himself) as he wonders what’s become of those “too late for the sun.” It’s a much more emotional take on the song than the guitar-laden, uptempo version that appears on the Cleaners From Venus’ My Back Wages. But The Off White Album doesn’t dwell too long in solemnity - it’s still a Martin Newell record, after all. His classic wit is on full display, whether he’s putting an irreverent spin on the Smiths (“Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”) or fondly warning a neighbour to “watch your chemicals, girl” (“The Girls In The Flat Upstairs”).
+ White vinyl
A rich cast of characters make up The Off White Album, via both the process of its recording and the subjects of its songs. It’s a record born on the road, inspired by Newell’s experiences travelling through Europe and Asia the year of its inception. Perhaps the clearest portrait that emerges as the album draws to a close, however, is one of Newell himself: as a poet, coffee shop customer, bandleader, lover and neighbour. By his own admission, The Off White Album is “a more intimate portrait of my life at that time than I’d intended.”
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