After a few years of instability when the group's future was in doubt, Clem Snide are back and in clearly recognizable form on their seventh studio album, The Meat of Life, which finds the core trio of Eef Barzelay (guitar and vocals), Brendan Fitzpatrick (bass and keyboards), and Ben Martin (percussion) joined by guest musicians Tony Crow (keyboards), Roy Agee (trombone), and Carole Rabinowitz (cello). With the band in stable circumstances, for the most part Clem Snide pick up where they left off with Soft Spot and End of Love; except for a few moments where the electric guitars get pushed into overdrive on "BFF" and "Walmart Parking Lot," The Meat of Life faces Barzelay's darkly comic lyrics against melodies that wouldn't have felt out of place on a '70s soft rock session, with acoustic pianos and tasteful guitar lines providing the aural framework for stories of romantic angst and languid depression. Barzelay is seemingly incapable of singing without appearing to drip with irony, but the 12 songs on The Meat of Life never sound as if the band is forcing the joke, and the subtle balance between the polish of the music and the rough, dour textures of Barzelay's voice adds something close to poignancy, reflecting the arid, busted lives at the heart of these songs. In many respects, The Meat of Life covers musical territory that Clem Snide have explored in the past, and this album is short on surprises for anyone who has been following the group's career. But Barzelay's songs are good, the ensemble playing is subtle and beautifully executed, and the production by Mark Nevers and the group is clean and unobtrusive, capturing the songs without pointless clutter. The Meat of Life might sound like "another Clem Snide album," but considering that it wasn't so long ago that it looked like this band was over and done, getting another serving of what these musicians do so well is more than welcome even if it doesn't break much new ground.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming