‘Clone’: better than the real thing

Acoustic folk legend Leo Kottke and ex-Phish bassist Mike Gordon first met at one of Kottke’s solo gigs a couple of years ago. Gordon, who is about 20 years Kottke’s junior, had been a huge fan of the older artist’s music for many years. Since Phish was on an indefinite hiatus, he decided to approach Kottke about the possibility of working together on an album. At the show, Gordon presented him with a tape of several of Kottke’s songs that he had overdubbed with his own bass playing. Kottke was immediately convinced by the tape and they soon began working on song ideas. The result of their collaboration is Clone, an eclectic folk album that combines quirky humor with excellent songwriting and skilled music.

Written by Gordon, the title track of the album exemplifies their unique brand of music. It begins with a bizarre yet playful rhythm created by the interaction between Gordon’s loopy electric bass lines and Kottke’s unsettling acoustic guitar riffs. The rhythm immediately grabs the listener’s attention with its infectious hooks. After a short intro, Gordon dives into the song’s intricate lyrics. Singing in a mischievous manner, he describes the love-hate relationship between a man and his clone. The lyrics describe the narrator’s battles with his clone and the identity crises that ensue. One particularly witty moment occurs when Gordon describes the clone by singing, “He’s not just a mirage, a reflection, or an elf/He makes it so I can live vicariously through myself.”

After Gordon finishes documenting his clone problems, he and Kottke conclude the song with a lengthy instrumental jam. This instrumental segment is very successful because, like a good Phish jam, it starts off simply before building into an extremely complex and dense sound.

“The Collins Missile” showcases Kottke and Gordon’s tremendous combination of musical talent and oddball humor. Penned by Gordon, it tells the story of a bumbling loser who tries to get revenge on his former lover by launching a mail-order missile at her house. While the situation is very twisted on the surface, the lyrics provide a comical twist, underlining the pathetic qualities of the main character. For example, after assembling the mail-order missile, he declares, “I aimed it at your house/Because of all the things you said/Like the time you said I’ll never change/It made my face turn red.” The use of a verbal argument as a reason for firing a missile makes the song’s narrator seem pitiful.

Throughout the song, Gordon and Kottke also use irony to express this idea. Gordon does this by singing the character’s insincere words in a consistently sincere manner. This technique makes the narrator seem even more pathetic because he does not recognize how comically absurd his revenge scheme is. Nevertheless, the song is also very serious musically. While Gordon and Kottke do make use of quirky rhythms to express the oddness of the main character, they also convey bittersweet emotions which ultimately make the listener empathize with the main character’s problems. In this way, Gordon and Kottke create a song that is simultaneously touching and humorous.

Although many of Clone’s best songs are written by Gordon, Kottke’s songs are often just as powerful. One such example is the instrumental song “Disco.” This track does not contain the humor found in many of the other songs on the album. Rather, it is simply a fast instrumental piece, creating a very purposeful and serious mood which is frequently punctuated by moments of sonic bliss.

“I Am a Lonesome Fugitive,” an old country song originally recorded by Clarence and Elizabeth Anderson, is another excellent example of Kottke’s contribution to the album. Kottke’s rough voice and soulful singing convincingly describe the lifestyle of a fugitive who must live on the run. In addition, Kottke’s fierce yet laidback guitar gives the song a sad and dangerous tone.

Clone is a solid album that contains a powerful mixture of excellent performances and eccentric humor. Gordon and Kottke are both tremendous talents and it is interesting to hear them play in a two person group. In the past, Kottke almost always played alone while Gordon usually had three other band-mates when he played with Phish. Thus, the duet setting presented a new challenge to both musicians. Kottke and Gordon clearly rose to the occasion, as their superb work on Clone demonstrates.