Someone asks you what the new Clinic record looks like and you could answer “as usual …” if this does not seem an unfair and reductive answer. So you hasten to add “… and so, it’s a wonder!”. But you still don’t seem to do justice to the umpteenth imaginative manipulation of musical matter, treated as if it were clay in the hands of a hyperactive child. And so you hasten to say that production is the usual added tool and that the attitude – like always – is the right one: suspended between punk rigour and garage acidity. You add that the writing is as refined as usual, if you just lend an ear, and that what is most surprising is the band’s management of their musical topoi which, far from creating a manner, shows rather how the reiteration of style can expand to the limit a palette of colours that has chosen to be very limited.
In 2019, on the occasion of previous album ‘Wheeltappers and Shunters’, I wrote that Clinic belong to that “peculiar lineage of bands that, having set a few rules of engagement, enjoy recombining the pieces of their little mosaic, just like some poor children who take apart the only game they own”. I still confirm this and add that “Fantasy Island” repeats the miracle of “those who, by limiting themselves, obtain in exchange a personality and an identity so strong as to allow access to true creative freedom”.
But let’s come to their new record. According to the press kit, after the focus on England’s past of the previous record and the satirical look at the never healed vices of British culture, the new album has been inspired by the band’s own vision of the future which, unexpectedly, would appear quite bright. An optimistic outlook on the future is reflected in, according to what vocalist and bandleader Ade Blackburn says, can be considered Clinic’s funky record.
To clarify what the Liverpool musician is referring to, the title track of the album shows how, in a sound environment infested with sounds from every part of our musical subconscious, the band’s usual post-punk rhythms are coloured in terms of accents, texture and groove in a vague disco way.
The song is one of the best of the new batch and is coupled with “Refractions (in the rain)”, a colossal Clinic-ian tour de force that advances, between the watchful and the ravenous, driven by a glacial drum machine and repeatedly pierced by synths that are Human League broadcasting from the Black Lodge. Ade’s singing goes from a whisper à la Jarvis Cocker, arcane interference to a Wayne Coyne-style vocoder distortion. Singing that is coloured with new imperceptible colours and that even surprises when at the beginning of the record, with the alienating vintage lullaby of “The Lamplighter”, it even assumes tones that one would call crooner and from which all the trademarks of the Clinic begin to be deployed: the percussive reiteration, the narcoleptic pauses and the library-smelling synths (“Fine Dining”); the limp and dry blues that queue up like synthetic peacocks (“Take A Chance”); oases drifting on a placid analogue river (“Dreams Can Come True”); psychedelic pop with Sixties scents (“Miracles”); clamorous free excursions between library music, lounge and exotica (“On the Other Side. …”); soul covers immersed in a reverberating haze (“I Can’t Stand The Rain” by Ann Peebles); little pop spirits that could even aspire to the charts, if they weren’t slowed down to the point of sounding sinister (“Feelings”).
The setlist ends with a mid-tempo rock ballad that, being a Clinic record, does without bridges, solos or refrains (“Hocus Pocus”) and the closing “Grand Finale”, in which Ade goes back to the confidential tone of the beginning and indulges in an uptempo with a pleasant swing aftertaste.
In short, if you haven’t guessed yet, we strongly recommend adding to your collection of listens the new chapter of a granitic, inimitable and singular band, that from episode to episode becomes more and more arcane, esoteric and fascinating.
Listen to the group from Liverpool preaching about a bright future… but always keep in mind that this is a band that, back in 1999, went around with their faces covered by surgical masks and has never taken them off since.
One might wonder what they mean by “bright future”…