Record stores are my favorite places in the world, but I was done with the lines and mayhem of Record Store Day after the first one; every day’s record store day in my world. When Captured Tracks chose to coincide the release of the first boxed set of Cleaners From Venus reissues with 2012’s RSD (with, as far as I could see, either little or no pre-order online), the unintended result was the item’s unavailability to the general public at the retail price. Thankfully (either by intention or not), this year’s release avoided RSD altogether and the Volume 2 boxed LP set (as well as the CD set and individual LPs) is available for pre-order before the official release date of May 14, 2013. (The Volume 1 LP boxed set remains unavailable at CT’s web site, but the CD version is available as are individual LPs.)
If you’re not familiar with the Cleaners, I think their sound (at the point of their career represented by these reissues) is perfectly summed up by one of their lyrics (from “Song for Syd Barrett”): “It was a dreamy English day, it was pouring down with rain.” Where this set of reissues picks up, lead singer/songwriter Martin Newell was largely working alone under The Cleaners From Venus pseudonym (his primary collaborator Lol Elliott having more or less departed, although he would return for Under Wartime Conditions) but the material was his strongest yet. 1983’s In the Golden Autumn belongs in the pantheon of that’s year’s best releases; look no further than the lead track “Reneé (Who’s Driving Your Car?)” a brilliant piece of pop fully deserving of hit-dom in an alternate world where low-fi, moody, echo-drenched, self-recorded-and-distributed-cassettes get played on the radio. 1984’s Under Wartime Conditions and 1985’s Songs for a Fallow Land are equally full of gorgeous, dreamy, melancholy, evocative classics like “Johnny the Moondog Is Dead”, “Drowning Butterflies”, “Golden Lane” and “Julie Profumo” (the last of which received a deserved revisit on 1987’s studio-recorded Going to England during the group’s flirtation with The Business).
The set’s fourth disc captures a variety of mostly pre-Cleaners tracks, many of which (contrary to the copy on Captured Tracks’ site) were previously released (albeit hard to find), like the 1980 single A-side “Young Jobless”, most of the first half of The Stray Trolleys Secret Dreams of a Kitchen Porter (dating to 1980), and 1983’s Two for the Winter cassette single.
If you’re a fan of pop songcraft and don’t mind a little lack of surface polish, I can’t recommend Martin Newell and the Cleaners From Venus strongly enough. Once upon a time his nearly career-long refusal to work within the accepted confines of the music industry must have seemed bizarre or self-defeating; nowadays I hope it’s held up as a shining, pre-internet example of the very definition of “indie”. The gatekeepers—their money, their approval—are superfluous. DIY, give it away, kill the biz. Amen.