Album review: The Cleaners From Venus – Penny Novelettes

Album artwork

Words by Alexandra Rose

‘Penny Novelettes’ is the brand new release and latest jewel to add to the crown of The Cleaners From Venus, aka Martin Newell, whose timeless tales of provincial life, love and all points in between have firmly established his work in the great tradition of English singer-songwriters. 

Drawing on themes that are contemporary yet familiar to followers of this pioneer of the DIY underground, the album is replete with wistful stories of lost love and observations on the everyday life of English folk. As the album’s title implies, the songs in this collection contain tales told in the classic manner which can be viewed as individual vignettes of small-town existence or as a commentary on modern British society.

Title track ‘Penny Novelettes’ is the poignant yet light hearted account of an old-fashioned delivery boy who is “a throwback to some much earlier time” and who dresses like “his dad’s dad” eventually finding true love with a local girl in much the same way as previous generations of his family would have done. Evoking the melancholia of Ray Davis’ finest work the characters’ acceptance that their wedding need not compare with Meghan and Harry’s highlights an unquestioned acceptance of their path in life and an inability to contemplate that this will ever change. 

‘Estuary Boys’ paints a vivid picture of the ‘spend as you earn’ culture in modern British society. At the end of each week the “tarnished old crown over the town” shines on its inhabitants as they talk of trips to Thailand or Berlin and find punters for the “Paco Rabanne in the back of the van” parked on the pub car park. Newell’s crisp vocal delivery and upbeat instrumentation illustrate the happy-go-lucky devil may care attitude at once familiar to all who have experience of this element of British life.

In contrast, ‘Flowers of December’ is a dreamlike evocation of lost love featuring an insistent instrumental theme full of jangling guitar riffs and ethereal vocals. The song’s “hopeless swan” swimming in the river seems unable to escape memories of times past which leave a yearning for better days. The effects and instrumentation throughout bring to mind a long-lost track rescued from an unreleased ‘Revolver’ recording session.

The social commentary of ‘Statues’ is coupled with a sound reminiscent of the heyday of power pop as classic guitar solos and vocal harmonies combine to address contemporary issues including the health pandemic, social unrest and financial aid for the poor. The writer’s persuasive pleas for change are enhanced by a characteristically catchy tune and dynamic arrangement. 

Over the 14 tracks of this welcome addition to Newell’s considerable catalogue ‘Penny Novelettes’ captures the listener’s imagination in painting a picture of times past and present with each song featuring different characters and portraying events both exceptional and mundane to shine a light on the parts of Britain that we have loved and lost and those that, for better or worse, remain.

Penny Novelettes was released on the 25th June 2021 and is available as digital download and CD here

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