Review: The Cleaners from Venus Box Set

The Cleaners from Venus Box Set Vol 1.
(Reissued 2012 Captured Tracks)
  While the dynamic duo of Lol Elliot and Martin Newell won't be mentioned in discussions of great 80s bands, these English gentlemen deserve more than the meager recognition they've received since their formation in 1980. While not pioneering a truly original sound, The Cleaners rock the boat by (satirically) covering the entire spectrum of the pop music they frequently heard on the radio. While the fuzziness might turn a few off, any true shoegazer will embrace the raw lo-fi sound that is the Cleaners From Venus.

Blow Away Your Troubles
  Although the rest of The Cleaners' catalog is supplemented by its fuzziness, Blow Away Your Troubles is possibly a bit too raw and sparse. Recorded on a primitive reel-to-reel tape recorder, many songs get a bit lost in the fuzz. Don't let this discourage you from giving it a listen, though. Blow Away... has its moments and leaves one with the thought that had The Cleaners been recorded in a real studio, this could have been a legendary LP.

  "Swinging Punk" kicks the album off to a good start, a punk song that plays like a Velvet Underground single. It's flooded with 60s pop sensibilities, bursts of noise and jangly guitars that are almost painfully catchy. Tracks like "A Blue Wave," "Union Lads" and "Aliens" are Krautrock new wave songs so synth-riddled that they're hilarious and dance-able at the same time. "Helpless" is the fourth and best track, with a bass heavy song with an almost god-like chorus and a great piano riff. 

 "The Trevor Rutter Experience" kicks of the second (and very bizarre) half of the album with a blast of trippy beach pop infused energy. "Marathon" is a droning, bouncy tune that sends shivers down your spine with its creeping melody. "So This is Modern Jazz" is exactly what the title implies, Vince Guaraldi inspired Jazz music that doesn't really fit with the other songs, but feels right at home in such a strange mix of tunes. "Marilyn on a Train" brings us back to normalcy, (sort of)  with its gorgeous keyboards and strong bass. The album ends with "The Artichoke that Loved Me," another Jazz track. It's futuristic elevator music that's possibly the strangest track I've seen from The Cleaners.
 With its many problems including production quality and length, (probably should have ended at track 10) Blow Away Your Troubles isn't the best introduction to The Cleaners from Venus. However, if you're up for a thrill ride through the Sgt. Pepper of the 1980s, it's the way to go for an adventurous listener.

On Any Normal Monday
  After hearing this album for the first time, all I can really say is that I'm sorry that that most of the world hasn't had a chance to hear it. In On Any Normal Monday, The Cleaners channel all their lo-fi energy to craft an album much darker, much more mature and much more insanely gorgeous than the rest. Trimming the release down to 11 songs, The Cleaners from Venus hit you with their best, and hit you hard. This album is an absolute must have for any indie rock fan, and one of the finest of the 80s.

  Martin Newell fires off his greatest songwriting with the jaw-dropping opener, "Night Starvation." The listener can already tell that this is going to be a radical departure from Blow Away, moving from proto-punk  to pure and simple pop. If you thought nobody could beat The Police, (and so did I) you were wrong. Night Starvation is possibly the jangliest track of all time complete with witty lyrics. ("too much blood in my alcohol stream") I dare you to listen to it just once without becoming addicted. "Tukani" is a parody of early punk and goth with echoing and spoken lyrics and tumultuous guitars awash in chorus.

  "A Girl with Cars in Her Eyes" hearkens back to the previous albums with oddball synths and screaming licks firing out of nowhere, yet bears a resemblance to the early Cure. "Living on Nerve Ends" pokes fun at Gary Numan, but even the Cleaners' goofiest moments are magical. "I Can't Stop Holding On" is a funky pop song with some amazing delay pedal hooks. "European War" takes its cues from Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen, but comes of as one of the weaker tracks. A new, cleaner sounding version of "Marilyn on a Train" closes out the album with style.

  Where Blow Away Your Troubles came off as sloppy, On Any Normal Monday is tight. I can't help but thinking if this was recorded in a studio, it could be one of the all-time best albums. Fans of Wild Nothing and Real Estate, please check out the original bedroom shoegaze band.

Midnight Cleaners
  After such a great sophomore album, Midnight Cleaners is a tad disappointing. Discarding chorus heavy guitars for droning synths was a huge mistake, making this release come off as cheesy and cornball.

  "This Rainy Decade" has a pretty cool bassline, but the keyboards demonstrate everything bad about New Order. "Tim in Vain" is a throwback to the original Cleaners sound, but without the usual fuzz, doesn't seem to work as well. "Only a Shadow" is so cliche, the only thing that can save is an amazing solo after the refrain. If you've ever heard "Shellshocked" by New Order, "Corridor of Dreams" may sound a bit familiar to you. It belongs in the background of a Chuck E. Cheese, not really an album by such a great band. "A Wretched Street" is a really good song that sounds like a politically active Monkees. "Midnight Cleaners" is the worst track, sounding like a male Bjork on drugs. 

  While it may be the fact that it follows such a great release, Midnight Cleaners doesn't really hold up on its own, but it's worth having in the box set to the the progression of The Cleaners' career. The best option at this point for them would have been to stop here, but sadly, The Cleaners released more and never lived up to their former reputation.