In case you're wondering, a KR-51 is a vintage German motor scooter, sort of a Teutonic version of a Vespa, and Clare Manchon, Olivier Manchon, and Bob Hart spent some time exploring Berlin on their bikes during the eight months they spent in Germany writing and recording the third Clare & the Reasons album. While Clare and her bandmates have always approached their pop music with an artful and baroque perspective, KR-51 feels more European in its lush orchestrations and moody melodic structures, and Clare's vocals are at once more melodramatic and better controlled than on her previous recordings, as if Kate Bush gave up on English mysticism and discovered Europop with no loss in her emotional force. The trio is joined by a 23-piece orchestra and drummer James McAlister for these sessions, and KR-51 was conceived and executed on a grand scale; the songs are rooted in pop and the more playful byways of art rock, but the instrumental backdrops sound nearly operatic, or like the soundtrack to some grand but deeply personal cinematic epic about innocents adrift in Germany. It says a lot about the force of Clare's high, breathy voice that it never gets lost in the towers of instrumentation that surround it, and though the group was brave to build such a massive musical construct around her, she is clearly up to the task and fits the music with grace and an unshakable level of belief. One of the most important things about a good pop song is a memorable hook, and that's where KR-51 stumbles a bit -- Clare & the Reasons have created an album that's long on ambition and ideas, but a bit skimpy on tunes you're likely to remember when its over (and in some cases it's not hard to lose track of them while you're listening). But KR-51 is a project where Clare & the Reasons raised the stakes for themselves, and in most respects they've succeeded, with an album that's an audacious and beautifully crafted celebration of their individual creative vision.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming