Album Review: At Least for Now by Benjamin Clementine
Very Good, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Although sparsely attended to with strings, percussion, and a few other ornamentations, Benjamin Clementine's debut album, At Least for Now, makes its case as a one-man show for piano and voice. The compelling British singer/songwriter is dramatic, self-assured, and theatrical in the extreme, boasting a powerful voice that swells to fill the room, which, on this unique record, seems to expand and shrink at the drop of a hat. A native of Edmonton in East London, Clementine left home at 16, eventually devoting himself to the lifestyle of an artistic vagabond, busking on the streets of Paris where he developed an unconventional style that blends together bits of soul, classical, opera, and street folk.
Benjamin Clementine’s tumultuous back story (a strict Christian childhood in London, a spell living rough in Paris and busking on the Métro, and then a return to the UK) has given him plenty of fascinating source material from which to craft his songs. His resulting debut album is by turns bold, brave, beautiful and at times quite brilliant. Clementine cites Antony Hegarty as a formative influence, and certainly there are vocal similarities.
English singer/songwriter Benjamin Clementine has been making the rounds with a couple of appetizer EPs in preparation for the release of his debut album At Least for Now. It’s made up of eleven originals, a handful of the carried over from the EPs, and it sounds like he died eleven times while making it. His piano style is relies on repetition to drive the sense of drama, but that’s nothing compared to his voice.
Edmonton 24-year-old Clementine has had a rollercoaster ride from homelessness and busking in Paris to an appearance on Later, a major-label deal and praise from Paul McCartney. His fascinating but flawed debut benefits from the bravery and adventurousness Clementine honed while tackling audiences aboard Parisian trains. Opener Winston Churchill’s Boy remodels the former PM’s famous speech into a song about his turbulent upbringing: “Never in the field of human affection / Had so much been given for so few attention.” Channeling influences such as Erik Satie and Antony Hegarty, Clementine is reminiscent of Kevin Rowland in that he sounds as if he is singing from the gut, and because he has to.
Benjamin Clementine sings the chorus of “London” — one of the better songs on his debut album, “At Least for Now” — as if struck by a painful flash of insight. “London, London, London is caaaaalling you,” he urges, opening the throttle on his voice. “What are you waiting for, what are you searching for?” He goes on this way awhile, then lands on a quieter note of a resolve: “I won’t underestimate who I am capable of becoming.” Mr.
On the cover of At Least For Now, Benjamin Clementine stands in a shadowy profile with a Granny Smith cupped in his right hand, as if Magritte's Son Of Man had finally plucked the offending fruit from his face but promptly swivelled away from the limelight. An appropriate symbol for this debut LP, during which the mythos of the Edmonton-raised Métro busker, who went from sleeping rough to impressing Macca in a barefoot Later… With Jools Holland performance, dissipates only to reveal something more inscrutable: a stranger in a trench coat. There are some astonishing moments on At Least For Now.