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Clinic - Bubblegum

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Artist: Clinic

Album: Bubblegum

Label: Domino

Review date: Oct. 6, 2010

At some point in the mid-2000s, enjoying Clinic started to feel like a war of attrition — hanging on by sheer stubborn force of will, in the face of an obstinate and unyielding attacker. After blasting out of the gates with a grip of urgent garage-psych singles, Clinic rapidly became the belles of the ball with their debut album Internal Wrangler, an album that succeeded by managing to effortlessly synthesize 40 years of rock music’s more endearing qualities. It was an unlikely stew of garage-fuzz, krautrock, surf and VU-styled slow burners. Back then — a full DECADE ago now — it felt like we might be dealing with a true contender.

Clinic came on the scene at an awkward crossroads. Indie rock was still emerging from a post-rock/post-emo paradigm. Genre-splintering (and movements in general) still developed in a slightly more retarded, linear manner, and the way forward seemed unclear. The return to basics retro-ism of The Strokes, The Walkmen and Interpol were still in R&D, and the garage and psych-rock revivals were also around the bend a good piece. In this context, Clinic really felt like a fresh step forward, but also back, into a long-dormant and less ponderous age, where music worked just as much on the body as the mind. Frontman, Ade Blackburn reinforced this with his marble-mouthed Marlin Brando delivery and largely inscrutable lyrics, as the band worked up their frigid voodoo-wop behind him. Clinic seemed poised to make a move, or at the very least be a player to watch.

But then something I can only liken to the "Stereolab-effect" took hold, and the band’s forward progress ground to a halt. Its sophomore record, Walking With Thee was eagerly anticipated, and while it was hardly a misstep, it wasn’t exactly the leap forward we had hoped for. The rough edges and unhinged recklessness of the group’s early songs had been sanded down in favor of a more even-keeled approach, reliant on organ-drone and undergirded by a rhythmic pulse indebted to The Silver Apples. Granted, there are much worse muses to be following, but in Clinic’s hands, the final product was as antiseptic as the trademark surgical masks the band wore onstage. And, hey, maybe this was the point. After all, you don’t name your band Clinic for nothin’.

The band continued on this reductionist path, each subsequent release seemingly more monochromatic than the last. And then a funny thing happened. Like a wink from the comatose, the group released a record that gave pause to the last fans standing, who even then were picking up the pen to sign the "Do Not Resuscitate" release. Do It!, from 2008, came through at a pivotal moment with the most varied and tuneful batch of songs Clinic had released in years, and one of its best records by far. The band sounded reinvested in attempting an escape from the corner it had painted itself into, opening it up and letting things breathe more than they had in some time. There was a clarity and boldness almost veering on the emotional — you could decipher the lyrics for once, and they seemed to be coming from a place that, if not universal, was certainly more inclusive than before.

The gradual unveiling continues on Bubblegum, opening with "I’m Aware," a track that cribs the melody of Gainsbourg’s "Je t’aime..." to support one of the outright prettiest tracks the group has ever penned, complete with a swelling string arrangement. Elsewhere, underlying pop instincts show themselves in delicate tracks like "Baby" and "Linda," cuts that sound forged from the classic songbooks of Holly/Orbison and filtered through the dark, unorthodox melodic sensibilities of Clinic. And yes, there are still a handful of cuts in the traditional mold — disoriented, fuzzed-out stompers that would make The Standells proud.

Look, this isn’t a Clinic record that’s gonna convert anyone not already checked-in, but it is another encouraging move, proving that the band is not content to stagnate in the confines of its sound. There may yet be a few more surprises lurking behind those masks.

By Jon Treneff

Other Reviews of Clinic

Walking With Thee


Do It!

Read More

View all articles by Jon Treneff

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