Cleaners from Venus

Cleaners from Venus, Vol. 3

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Not unlike Andy Partridge and Robyn Hitchcock, Martin Newell has a loyal cult among those who treasure the quirkier side of British pop; however, unlike Partridge or Hitchcock, he's never gotten much press or a major push from a major label, largely because he's chosen to operate outside the channels of the music industry, releasing most of his music on his own. One of Newell's most consistently interesting projects, the Cleaners from Venus, distributed the bulk of their catalog on homemade cassettes, and while their later albums received proper releases on vinyl in Europe, in much of the world Cleaners from Venus recordings are only slightly more common than Bigfoot. Thankfully, Captured Tracks have been working with Newell to reissue some of the highlights from the Cleaners' catalog, and Vol. 3 is a box set that includes the albums Living with Victoria Grey (1987), Number Thirteen (1990), and My Back Wages (2000), along with a disc of rare and unreleased material titled Extra Wages. While all four discs are fine stuff, the real gem here is Living with Victoria Grey, which is a superb set of U.K. jangle pop (with a few solid R&B stompers thrown in) overflowing with great hooks, hummable melodies, top-shelf guitar work, and witty, literate lyrics as well as droll interludes that link the tunes. The fact that Newell cut the album almost entirely by himself (with some help from Giles Smith) is a reminder why he's a true auteur in the U.K. independent scene, blissfully willing to follow his muse wherever it chooses to go, and the production is simple but well-suited to the music. If the other three albums aren't quite as good (and sound a bit more homemade, particularly with the frequent presence of lo-fi drum boxes), they're still inarguably great stuff, and they're remarkably consistent, with one smart, well-crafted basement pop number right after another along with occasional bursts of bitterly witty social commentary -- if Newell writes bad or uninteresting songs, he hides them well, and his guitar work is satisfying at every turn. Anyone who believes you need an elaborate recording studio and a large bankroll to make great records should be introduced to the work of the Cleaners from Venus, and Vol. 3 is a king-sized example of how Martin Newell produced pure pop magic with cheap gear and a lot of imagination; while the four albums have also been reissued individually, this box set packs a whole lot of musical value for the money.

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