Despite the fact that this is only his second album with the Kitty Litters, A.B. Clyde’s songwriting shines with sophistication and experience. This isn’t accidental and nor is the sign of some youthful prodigy emerging like a bolt from the blue. Instead, the fifteen songs on Muscle Beach come from a skilled and time-tested pen. A.B. Clyde’s apprenticeship as a staff writer with many major music publishers and over two hundred sole or partial credits in television and film has prepared him for these albums with the Kitty Litters. He’s had the exceptional sense to surround himself with a bevy of the best musicians available in the Los Angeles area.
Their top-flight quality isn’t readily apparent, but if you turn your attention away from Clyde’s vocal and lyric and focus on their playing, it’s obvious that their understated consistency is important for this song. Clyde’s vocal, however, does a great job of storytelling. The true highpoint of the track is how the song never relies on one joke to get over. Muscle Beach has a handful of tracks listeners might consider “one joke” novelty tunes, but they’re part of the unique balance between the funny, silly, and serious that defines the album. “Why Won’t You Make Love?’ is a much softer, slower tune than the preceding two, but the shifting musical mood does hurt the album’s flow. Instead, this is a luxurious, humorous song with a clear undercurrent of sorrow and Clyde sings it with impressive yearning in his voice. “Wish I Was in Paris” can be heard a number of ways, but its lewd, unashamed subject matter will provoke a lot of laughs. Clyde shows a little sleight of hand in the writing of this song. The lyrics are full of such rich imagery that it might distract you from what he’s actually singing about.
It takes “Drinkin’ in the Dark” less than a minute to rank as one of the album’s best songs. The track is much more dramatic than the preceding songs thanks to an increased focus on dynamics, but Clyde sings with such hushed, focused intensity that it noticeably raises the stakes. “Shortenin’ Bread” delightfully updates the traditional track and will surprise and baffle many, but any misgivings should be swept away by the sheer enthusiasm powering Clyde and the band’s performance. “Muscle Beach” is a fantastic title track that works from its contrasting elements. There’s a distinctive voice in the lyrics as Clyde creates another compelling first person narrative about insecurity. Clyde stretches and slurs the vocal with great emotion. “I Brake” is quite a turn from the preceding song, but the trip from the sublime to the ridiculous is well in character for Muscle Beach and shows off Clyde’s stylistic dexterity.
“Billy Blaine” is the album’s best narrative effort and unfolds like a wonderfully condensed short story. There’s equal parts humor and pathos running through this track and it’s a truly unique experience even on such an individual album. It’s also a reminder of the masterful vocal performance Clyde fills each song with as here, near the album’s end, he sings “Billy Blaine” with a lightly aching, emotive push. “Bowling in London” is an absurdist lark that doesn’t rank among the album’s best songs, but will entertaining many with its offbeat humor. “Railroad Buddies” has more of the same subtle magic distinguishing earlier tracks like “Drinkin’ in the Dark” and “Muscle Beach”, but the artistry runs a little deeper here and recognizing the songwriting sleight of hand giving this track power makes much more of an impact. Clyde and the Kitty Litters close Muscle Beach with the sentimental “Outside” that twists an assortment of childhood clichés into another signature track bearing Clyde’s touch.
This is a memorable effort fulfilling the promise of his first effort and taking it even further. Let’s all take a moment to be grateful for narrow escapes and be glad Clyde is pursuing this project instead of obscuring his talents writing for cinema and television.