Release Date: Oct 5, 2010
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
It’s hard to believe Clinic is up to its sixth album. An improbable 2000s sleeper hit, the masked quartet from Liverpool—fond of jumble-sale instrumentation and pop-minded restraint—is entering its second decade with well-earned calm. Bubblegum wafts open with “I’m Aware,” a swirl of wah-wah coils, chiming twelve-string guitars and cooing, wordless backing vocals.
“In the dark, you’re never gone,” sings Clinic frontman Ade Blackburn on the opening track of his band’s new record, Bubblegum. The line could sum up Clinic’s status at the almost 15-year mark of the Liverpool group’s career. They’ve built up a clearly devoted fanbase around their organ-drenched updates on 1960s psychedelic pop, but mainstream success has largely eluded them.
At first, longtime Clinic fans might think that Bubblegum is an ironic title -- after all, the band spent so much of their career forging clangorous, mysterious, art-punk that it seems impossible that anything overtly poppy or catchy would enter their surgery scrub-clad minds, much less their music. Yet Clinic’s sound has always had a pretty side, and they push it to the fore of this album. Bubblegum’s first few songs are some of the band’s sweetest, simplest, and catchiest in some time; “Baby” is downright soothing, with wah-wah guitars cocooning Ade Blackburn as he coos about “all who adore you.” Of course, this is Clinic, so this sudden sweetness isn’t all it seems.
Going through Clinic’s entire catalogue, it’s easy to overlook how the Liverpool foursome has held the reputation of being one of independent music’s best-kept secrets. Internal Wrangler, their debut release exactly ten years ago, became an accidental masterpiece by achieving the impossible feat of developing an original voice. Though the new century had brought upon a new outlook for a new generation, courtesy of Kid A’s textural post-rock, expectations for the next groundbreaking sound reached sky-high proportions.
The last time we reviewed a new Clinic album, Nate Patrin suggested that you wouldn't get much more of a sense of the band's evolution by listening to their albums in chronological order than by putting their tracks in alphabetical order. I disagree. While it is true that Clinic have always sounded more or less the same, they have made a point of introducing new textures and affects with each new record.
[a]Clinic[/a] would probably take umbrage at being described as veterans, but the sixth release in their 13th year certainly points towards a certain mellowing. ‘[b]Lion Tamer[/b]’ (which doesn’t so much doff its cap at [b]Beefheart[/b] as rob him at knifepoint), ‘[b]Orangutan[/b]’ and ‘[b]Evelyn[/b]’ aside, ‘[b]Bubblegum[/b]’ largely ditches the acerbic, electric sound of old in favour of the acoustic-led meditations and slow, surfy numbers that used to knit their albums together rather than drive them. It’s far from bad, but if you’re still waiting for a [a]Clinic[/a] record as great as the utterly seminal ‘[b]Internal Wrangler[/b]’, keep waiting, and probably don’t hold your breath.
There’s always been a certain measure of novelty to Clinic: the scrubs, the vintage keyboards, the muddy vocals that sound like a sampled sliver of Thom Yorke’s trademark yawl. Their releases following 2000’s Internal Wrangler have been intermittently successful at shaping this bag of tricks into a cohesive sound. Walking with Thee was a more polished take on the style established on that first LP, while Winchester Cathedral pushed back into a fuzzier realm but sounded too garbled, too muddily obscure to amount to a solid effort.
This is, for want a better of a better expression, a right old laugh of a record. Daniel Ross 2010 First things first, Bubblegum is a super title for Clinic’s sixth album. Second things second, the Miles Davis-esque artwork is equally fitting, for Bubblegum is one of Clinic’s most capricious recordings. Offering themselves up fully to the possibilities of pop music in its most open forms has enlivened a playfulness that was previously latent and, thank goodness, they’ve all but ditched the Philips Philicorda whine that grates on some of their earlier records.
Having perfected a triangulation of ‘60s garage-rock scuzz, mangled Krautrock and dismantled Augustus Pablo dub so early on, Clinic left very little room for future manoeuvre, only relentless repetition. Whilst such dutiful recycling has always allowed the Liverpool foursome to deliver a consistent stream of sterling singles over the last decade, the law of diminishing returns has gradually become an affliction across five studio albums, leading to the belief that album number six – Bubblegum – is somewhat of an ‘adapt or die’ scenario. Admirably, Ade Blackburn, Brian Campbell, Jonathan Hartley and Carl Turney have stepped-up to the challenge to reinvent themselves as lushly-arcane sound sculptors instead of mere malign groove-riders.