Brighton, England's Clearlake got tougher between its most recent full-length efforts.

Brighton, England's Clearlake got tougher between its most recent full-length efforts. Perhaps it's the fact that the group has been bombarded with complaints about sounding too damn British, too English or any other assortment of regional pigeonholing. Sure, one could classify some of its sound as Brit-pop or even attribute its generally miserable disposition to the miasmal climate.

But the new "Amber" fights against the shell, bursting with angrier, edgier guitars and undercutting the sad funk with glammy attitude. The dramatic "Getting Light Outside" reveals Clearlake's traditional softie side, pulsing with strings, but "Good Clean Fun" sets the vocals back in the mix and lets the repetitive guitar licks drive the listener straight up to a simple, frills-free chorus and a frizzy, psyched-out guitar solo.

The album hits a wall with the snorefest "You Can't Have Me," the half-hearted garage rock of "Finally Free" and the lumbering "Dreamt That You Died," but comes back to life with the Stone Roses-ish "Far Away" and the rootsy ass-shaker "Neon." "Amber" isn't as strong as 2003's "Cedars," but it's an essential move forward for the band, nudging it toward more innovative songwriting in the future. -- Katie Hasty