After a short stint as a solo artist—which produced the excellent 2008 album Lose Big—Eef Barzelay revived his long-running band, Clem Snide. Barzelay apparently felt better off under the group’s moniker than his own, but the band’s subdued 2009 album, Hungry Bird, was a comedown from Lose Big (and Clem Snide’s better material, for that matter). However, Hungry Bird wasn’t technically a new album—it was older material that had been previously shelved. So The Meat Of Life offers the first real state of the union for post-reform Clem Snide.
As such, the state of Clem Snide is middling. Barzelay can be counted on to deliver clever turns of phrase and subtly engrossing moments, but The Meat Of Life just doesn’t have enough of them. It starts off promisingly with the raucous “Walmart Parking Lot,” a quick two-and-a-half minute overview of Clem Snide’s charm: country-influenced indie rock with guitars that chime and twang; Barzelay’s voice, which finds importance in the mundane (“Sunrise in a Walmart parking lot never looked so beautiful”); an inconspicuous tunefulness that makes the “ah-ah-ah-ah” vocal coda linger in memory after the song has ended. Clem Snide specializes in that kind of understated memorability, but The Meat Of Life sometimes feels too understated. The quieter moments recede too far, and the album struggles to maintain momentum. As a harbinger of Clem Snide to come, it’s neither ominous nor promising.