Single Review: Benjamin Clementine – I Won’t Complain

By on Thursday, 19th May 2016 at 12:00 pm

Header photo by Mickey Clement

London singer/songwriter Benjamin Clementine won the 2015 Mercury Prize for Album of the Year on the strength of his genre-challenging debut LP ‘At Least for Now’. Clementine’s songwriting on the album combines a very classical aesthetic with pop vocals and art rock structures in a composite style that truly thinks outside the box of any commonly defined musical classification. Earlier this spring, Clementine released a new deluxe version of ‘At Least for Now’ with three added tracks and an extended version of one more from the original release.

Taken from the new deluxe version of the album, Clementine’s upcoming single ‘I Won’t Complain’ has already received attention on American shores from The Fader and The Late Late Show with James Corden. But Clementine himself didn’t have a lot of exposure to pop culture in either music or television as he was growing up. Raised in a strict religious household in North London before fleeing to Paris at age 20, Clementine’s earliest artistic influences included French pianist and composer Erik Satie and American avant-garde musicians Antony and the Johnsons.

Clementine’s mix of background influences are intriguing to say the least, and I found myself curious as to what the synthesis of those ingredients might sound like. In the case of ‘I Won’t Complain’, it reads at first like a classical art song, arranged simply for piano and voice. The piano accompaniment is shimmeringly impressionistic and without a quickly discernable structure. But Clementine’s vocals are unmistakably vernacular, stating his poignant lyrics in a stark hybrid of speech and singing that broadens to a climax of raw emotional expression over the refrain “but I won’t complain / no, I won’t complain / though my good days are far gone / they’ll surely come back one morn / so I won’t complain”.

‘I Won’t Complain’ is a unique and powerful blend of fragility and strength from a songwriter who has experienced his fair share of both in the course of his 27 years. His increasingly rare combination of musical elegance and lyrical eloquence finds exquisite visual expression in the abstract black and white promo video below.


The deluxe version of Benjamin Clementine’s ‘At Least For Now’ is currently available, and new single ‘I Won’t Complain’ will impact on the 27th of May on Virgin EMI in the UK and Capitol Records in America.


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