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Cleere East/West
Released 8 October 2010
Producer Joe Cleere
Label Fretless Records
Length 44:13
Genre Alternative
Website www.cleeremusic.com

East/West, the debut album from (Joe) Cleere, is the product of a lot of effort and good luck; coming as it does on the back of years of dedicated busking, song contests,  and the serendipitous patronage of stage magician Keith Barry. The story of Cleere’s road to this debut release has given him enough interesting material to fill an album, but instead he has chosen a pedestrian vision of global kulturkampf as his subject.

This is a bit of a pity on two fronts. Firstly, his own experiences (moving to Finland at fourteen to record an EP, playing to a packed Vicar’s Street at the same age) are captivating in their own right, and surely could have provided him with songs of interest to all those young and footloose and dreaming of a bright future. There is an obvious audience for songs of travel and adventure, of extraordinary deeds and of a life lived for an art.

Secondly, the real world is a much more complex place that portrayed in this album. You could argue that no artist has come to terms with the world, and that attempting to do so drives art. But the subject of East/West (unconsciously referencing Kipling’s The Ballad of East and West) is the simplified version of current events as described by newscasters and polemicists.

To describe the West as rich and free and the East as poor and oppressed, and that the former is the cause of the latter, is naive. Furthermore, the album dwells on this state of affairs without delving deeper or offering solutions. “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” and that’s that. It is the viewpoint of adolescence: the world is bad for simple reasons, and can be rectified with simple remedies.

It’s fitting, therefore, that the music hails from the rockier end of ‘Indie’, a genre of music that could be described as ‘music made by fans’. Cleere’s vocals suit this style, an echo of 90s Britpop underlings Gomez or Reef with an impassioned growl that feels more like an imitation than a genuine voice. Indeed, there are moments when a Nickleback yowl breaks into an Ash croon and déjà vu is the only tingle that goes down your spine. Sometimes the references are chameleonic: 'No Raindrop' channels The Beatles at their most maudlin.

But does that make this a bad album? For those who like Indie music, this is custom designed to please. Cleere’s outsider origins (Carlow-born, ventures to Finland, touring by busking) are kudos in such a milieu, and it is easy to imagine East/West drifting through student residences or playing in shared houses. For those not enamoured by Indie music, either because that love was never there, or it has been outgrown by Morrissey’s ‘clever swine’, East/West will fall into, and vanish under, that vast sea of identikit guitar pop.

- Paul McGranaghan