Before that storm there was fire
And everything became nothing again
And then out of nothing
Out of absolutely nothing I, Benjamin, I was born
So that when I become someone one day
I will always remember that I came from nothing"
Benjamin Clementine is a British musician, primarily known for his distinctive voice, energetic piano playing and Genre Mashup style that draws influences from pop, jazz and classical music alike.
Having been homeless for several years, he started playing cover music in the Paris subway, mostly to make money to survive. He reached a certain level of fame doing this - accordingly, there exist several videos of him from this time, filmed by passengers and passerby (like this one or this one). He eventually got picked up, got a record label deal and released two extended plays, Cornerstone and Glorious You, and his full-length debut album, At Least For Now. The latter won him the prestigious Mercury Music Award in the year 2015. He has since released a sophomore album, I Tell a Fly, and appeared on the song Hallelujah Money on Gorillaz' album Humanz, both in 2017.
- Cornerstone EP (2013)
- Glorious You EP (2014)
- At Least For Now (2014)
- I Tell a Fly (2017)
The music of Benjamin Clementine features examples of the following tropes:
- Album Intro Track: "Farwell Sonata" on I Tell a Fly is not significantly shorter than normal song length, but it starts and ends with long piano parts, with a short, fast, erratic song between them, which makes it seem like more of an introduction rather than an actual song in the conventional sense.
- Animal Motifs: They are common in his lyrics, although their meanings are often very ambiguous:
- "Better Sorry Than Asafe" is, as per Word of God, from the perspective of a fly.
- "Paris Cor Blimey" mentions rats repeatedly.
- "One Awkward Fish", with the fish also appearing in the albums intro, "Farewell Sonata", as fishes that cannot swim.
- The Bully: What "Phantom of Aleppoville" is about the bullies are portrayed by haunting voices chanting we wont leave you alone repeatedly, among other things.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Clementine has explained that on the cover for At Least For Now, the blue room represents Paris, while the red door represents London.
- Concept Video: The music video for "Phantom of Aleppoville" tells an ambiguous story about children in an old school, seemingly trying to find the eponymous "phantom".
- Creepy Child: The loud, high-pitched chanting at the beginning of "Phantom of Aleppoville". Also applies to the music video, where they wear masks with malicious faces.
- Darker and Edgier: I Tell a Fly in comparison to At Least for Now it has moody songs like "Phantom of Aleppoville" and "God Save the Jungle", and is less accessible overall.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The music videos for "Condolence" and "I Won't Complain".
- Denser and Wackier: At Least For Now has a few unconventional song-writing choices (like the extended spoken word passage in the middle of "Adios"), but I Tell a Fly is much more chaotic and erratic and has an immense tendency towards Genre Mashup and Mood Whiplash.
- Face on the Cover: Played straight with I Tell a Fly and the Glorious You EP. At Least For Now does show him, but his face is mostly turned away.
- Genre Mashup: The most common threat that connects most of his music is his piano playing, but apart from that, theres influences from jazz, pop, classical, and all sorts of different genres. "Calm Down", the first song released for the album he plans to release with his wife, points in a folky direction.
- The Golden Rule: Cited in the chorus of "Nemesis":"Treat others the way you want to be treated."
- In the End, You Are on Your Own: The first verses in "Cornerstone":"I am alone in a box of stone
When all is said and done."
- Location Song: "London".
- Lonely Piano Piece:
- "Cornerstone", with the chorus literally starting with the lyrics I am lonely.
- "Gone"s chorus: All will be gone. There is, however, a very quiet drum in the background in addition to the piano, but it's playing only the most necessary notes to subtly accentuate the rhythm.
- Madness Mantra:
- "Then I Heard a Bachelors Cry":"Im sorry, Im sorry, Im sorry, Im sorry, Im sorry, Im sorry "
- "St-Clementine-On-Tea-And-Croissants":"This Clemetine is on tea and croissants, this Clemetine is on tea and croissants, leave him alone "
- "Then I Heard a Bachelors Cry":
- Medium Awareness: In the middle of "The People And I":"Excuse me, Im in the middle of a song."
- Mood Whiplash: Hes fond of this, especially on I Tell a Fly. Examples include:
- "Farewell Sonata", which starts with dark, ominous sounds, then continues as a sad piano piece, suddenly transforms into an energetic, erratic song and then returns to the piano melodies from the first third.
- "Phantom of Aleppoville", a song that consists of three parts: A dark, aggressive first part, then an instrumental part, followed by a slow, melodic finale.
- "Paris Cor Blimey" is one of the darkest, most haunting songs in his discography, yet it is followed by "Jupiter", one of his lightest, most relaxed songs. In general, the album's second half is noticably lighter than the first.
- New Sound Album: I Tell A Fly is both Darker and Edgier and Denser and Wackier than At Least For Now. It features a more prominent rhythm section, and a prominent use of a harpischord along with the typical piano. On top of that, "Ode From Joyce" sees him experiment with synthesizers. All of that said, "Jupiter" and "By the Ports of Europe" are both similar in sound to At Least For Now, and arguably even lighter than most songs on there.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Farewell Sonata", "Phantom of Aleppoville", "Paris Cor Blimey", and "Ode From Joyce".
- One-Word Title: "Edmonton", "Mathematics", "London", "Adios", "Nemesis", "Condolence", "Cornerstone", "Gone", "Jupiter", "Quintessence", "Eternity".
- Performance Video: The music videos to "Cornerstone" and "Eternity".
- The Place:
- "London", the place he was born and raised in.
- Likewise, "Edmonton", the specific district in London he was raised in.
- "Jupiter", the place Clementine's Spaceman Alter Ego in that song comes from.
- Pun-Based Title:
- I Tell a Fly, instead of "I tell a lie".
- "Better Sorry Than Asafe", instead of "better safe than sorry".
- "Ode from Joyce", instead of "Ode to Joy".
- Robot or Spaceman Alter Ego: Ben in "Jupiter" is an alien from the eponymous planet visiting Earth, specifically America, for petrol - it's a spoof on how "alienated" he felt being in America.
- Shout-Out: "Winston Churchills Boy", aside from its namesake, mentions the magnificent Orwell.
- Siamese Twin Songs: Many of the songs on I Tell a Fly transition seamlessly, the most notable example being "Better Sorry Than Asafe" to "Phantom of Aleppoville", with the former ending on an extended piano solo that includes a subdued version of the latter's intro melody before transitioning. Accordingly, the solo also doubles as an Epic Instrumental Opener for "Phantom of Aleppoville".
- Spoken Word in Music: An extended passage in the middle of "Adios".
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: In "Jupiter":"Ben is an alien with extra ability
Pushed time to next century"
- Surreal Music Video: The music video for "I Won't Complain" features a lot of surreal imagery, including hands hanging in the air on strings and mimicking piano playing, a wooden box filled with eyes, and two Benjamins sitting on the same table.
- Take That!: "Paris Cor Blimey" is one to Marine Le Pen.
- Title Drop: "Pound Sterling" has one for At Least For Now, although it's only a bonus track.
- The X of Y: "Phantom of Aleppoville".