“Nemesis” is the first song on Benjamin Clementine’s EP titled “I Dream, I Smile, I Walk, I Cry.” From the moment the song begins, it feels like we’ve been thrust into a Moulin Rouge-ized version of 19th-century London. The piano riff is dizzying. The vocal phrasing is bombastic and has a touch of spoken word emphasis.
When the chorus comes in, Clementine sings, “Treat others the way you want to be treated, and remember your days are fully numbered.” He hits some minor notes that give these words a slicing edge.
Then in the small musical break between the chorus and the verse, he makes some guttural, growling noises on the two upbeats of the 1-2-3 waltz rhythm of this tune. I can picture wet, grimy streets, hazy lampposts in the fog, a sour smell, and a man with a top hat in the shadows trying to sell me something I don’t want.
Every once in a while, a cockney accent slips into his words, only reinforcing these visions. He also has a way of slipping a lot more syllables into a vocal phrase than feels possible. Yet, it doesn’t sound awkward or forced. He manages to give it a natural lilt.
The rest of the songs on this EP contain threads of deep pain and loneliness, so “Nemesis” stuck out to me for its sass and aggression. The piano work in this one is quick and light, and there’s some agile percussion keeping it all together. Also, this is the only song on the EP where he’s directing his thoughts toward someone else rather than focusing inwardly. This is also the only one on the EP where the vocals don’t go to a really raw and powerful place. Everything is precise and controlled in “Nemesis,” which perfectly fits the words of the chorus that I mentioned above. This song is a subtle threat, a sly reminder that all actions have consequences.
If you enjoy “Nemesis,” definitely check out “Cornerstone” and “Condolence” by Benjamin Clementine.