Release Date: Oct 6, 2017
Record label: Virgin
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
Upon inspection of his visa allowing travel from Europe to America, Benjamin Clementine stumbled across five intriguing words: “an alien of extraordinary ability”. Those five words acted as the catalyst for Clementine’s second studio album, I Tell a Fly. Initially conceived as a theatrical play, this wildly unpredictable and dramatic record - informed by Clementine’s nomadic experiences and the current geopolitical climate - narrates the tale of two flies in love, exploring and learning about the world together before they part. I Tell a Fly’s narrative device allows Clementine to emphatically embrace the avant-garde.
Britain's Benjamin Clementine emerged in 2015 as a theatrical pop eccentric, brimming with a self-assurance that bolstered his immediately distinctive melding of classical, opera, soul, and folk. Minimally arranged for piano and drums and powerfully delivered in a strange smattering of accents and personas, his sound was singular and his debut outing, At Least for Now, was justly rewarded with the coveted Mercury Prize. Parlaying this critical success into a license to challenge, Clementine offers his wildly ambitious and frequently baffling follow-up, I Tell a Fly.
With his compelling back story as a youth spent living homeless in Paris, a highly idiosyncratic compositional style, and above all, his astonishing, multi-octave voice, Benjamin Clementine is one of the most singular musical talents to emerge in Britain this century. His debut album At Least For Now, released in 2015, was a dizzyingly original, frequently beautiful collection of piano-led songs covering everything from loneliness and nostalgia to eating tea and croissants and reworking the speeches of Winston Churchill. Despite receiving some criticism for being over-egged .
Benjamin Clementine is the kind of artist hard to ignore and even harder to pigeonhole. His genre-merging, format-skipping style picked him up the Mercury Prize in the U.K. for his 2015 debut (At Least for Now) without anyone quite being able to place him. Not much and everything has changed on his smart and soulful sophomore effort I Tell a Fly.
Mainstream pop in its purest sense often resides in a hermetically-sealed Utopian bubble that’s both divorced from and immune to the harsh realities of the world we live in. The horrors of war, famine and death might sell newspapers but they are subjects that have little value commercial value in pop’s blinkered, escapist paradise. Thank God, then, for sentient contemporary artists like the singular Benjamin Clementine, who offers an eloquent commentary to illuminate the dark and perplexing times we live in. This, his second album, with its widescreen, orch-pop production values finds the singer/pianist/composer using bolder colours and a much bigger canvas than his much-lauded 2015 debut.
As pretty, melancholic piano gives way to bursts of unbridled theatricality on opener ‘Farewell Sonata’, it’s like listening to the overture of an epic opera, simply a small taste of what lies within. Indeed, ‘I Tell A Fly’ was initially imagined as a play, inspired by a line issued as part of his American visa - “an alien of extraordinary abilities” - before transforming itself into Benjamin Clementine’s second, sprawling record. On his Mercury Prize-winning debut ‘At Least For Now’, Benjamin honed some of the many influences he’d absorbed while busking in Paris and being homeless into a collection where references to famous speeches by Winston Churchill sat along more deeply personal tales.
Earlier this year, Benjamin Clementine told the Observer about the difficult process of submitting his second album to his record label. Things became so fraught, he said, that he threatened to return from whence he came: the Paris Metro, where he was discovered as a homeless busker. .