Sunday, November 29, 2009

Noughties by Nature #113: Clinic's 'Distortions' (aka 'The One That Slipped Through The Net')

Over on Sweeping The Nation there has been an impressive crowd-sourcing approach to listing and celebrating the songs of the decade: Noughties by Nature.

In the final stages I put myself forward to deliver one of the planned 120 entries. Sadly I delivered mine the day AFTER the list had to prematurely ended (at #112). I've never been good with deadlines. So in all its glory here is my entry, the 'one that slipped through the net'

Noughties by Nature #113: Clinic - 'Distortions'

Clinic’s debut full-length album “Internal Wrangler” came out in the first year of the Noughties. It built on the earlier John Peel-approved singles (compiled on the “3 EPs” album) and set the template for their following 4 albums: art-punk-garage with splashes of surf, doowop, Suicide or Krautrock. From “Internal Wrangler” came three singles – ‘The Return of Evil Bill’, ‘The Second Line’ and ‘Distortions’. In an alternative format I’d make the case for all three featuring in a best of the Noughties list; but for politeness and compliance I’ll put forward just ‘Distortions’.

The defining aspect of some Clinic songs is momentum – the surging break-neck pace of say ‘Cement Mixer’, ‘Pet Eunuch’ or ‘Tusk’. For others it’s tension – see ‘Harvest’ or the controlled metronomic rhythms and abrupt, regulated gasps of ‘The Second Line’. What defines ‘Distortions’ for me is its emotional force – something not often associated with a band who can appear on the surface a little distant, unengaged and, well, clinical.

Over vintage organ hum and sparse drum pattern, Ade Blackburn’s softened vocals suggest pure vulnerability and yearning. Occasional moments of tenderness (“
I love it when you blink your eyes”) are countered by something more sinister playing out “You'd never know how often / I've pictured you in coffins / my baby in a coffin”. As with most Clinic songs, it is difficult to tell what is going on lyrically. My assumption is that ‘Distortions’ is documenting the conflicting sensations of pregnancy, and how it changes and distorts the female body and emotions. And ultimately wishing for birth/abortion as a way of escape: “I want to know my body / I want this out not in me / I want no other leakage”. I could be so wrong. But whatever the personal interpretation or true sense, for a band that disguises meaning through cryptic lyrics and muffled vocals as effectively as they disguise themselves on stage, it is a rare glimpse of empathy and tenderness. The instrumentation on the song is equally delicate and appropriately atmospheric: languid bass and spectral backing vocals so subtle you almost don’t hear them. At its finale, the song builds in intensity to a final brief wig-out with squealing horn: beautiful and frightening.

In a decade where TV ‘talent’ shows and the conservatism of a failing record industry have obliterated music that is original, interesting or genuine from the charts and the mainstream, we need more than ever to celebrate and cherish bands like Clinic and others featured on this list. The ‘nature’ of the Noughties should not be remembered as lowest-common-denominator blandness and copy-cat music-making. Let’s keep celebrating the distortions.

[BUY Internal Wrangler]

If you didn't visit Noughties by Nature, it's all still there to view and is heartily recommended. As STN says "it's been interesting to see what didn't make the cut. Among the 111 were three unreleased songs, a B-side and one unreleasable (in its original form) track, such being the nature of the beast. And yet no Radiohead, Strokes, Arctics, Kanye, White Stripes, Winehouse, Franz, Elbow, Coldplay, Outkast..." What did make it were the following:

Aaliyah, Adam Green, Airport Girl, Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, Amanda Palmer, And So I Watch You From Afar, Arcade Fire, Ash, Art Brut, At The Drive-In, The Avalanches, Ballboy, Battles, Bearsuit, Billie The Vision And The Dancers, Blakfish, The Bobby McGees, Brakes, Bright Eyes, British Sea Power, Broadcast, BrokeNCYDE, Burial, Chris T-T, Clock Opera, Colour, Comet Gain, The Concretes, The Coral, Dan Deacon, Darren Hayman, David Cronenberg's Wife, The Delgados, Deerhunter, Dizzee Rascal, Eastern Lane, Eels, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Euros Childs, Felix da Housecat, Girls Aloud, Girls On Top, Half Man Half Biscuit, Hefner, Helen Love, The Hold Steady, The Horrors, Hot Hot Heat, The Indelicates, Jarvis Cocker, Johnny Boy, Johnny Flynn, Johnny Foreigner, Justice vs Simian, Kat Flint, Kate Nash, Klaxons, The Knife, Kylie Minogue, Lambchop, The Libertines, The Long Blondes, Los Campesinos!, The Lucksmiths, Lupen Crook, The Manhattan Love Suicides, Maps, Mclusky, Minnaars, Mint Royale, Missy Elliott, Misty's Big Adventure, Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi, Moldy Peaches, Monkey Swallows The Universe, The National, Neon Neon, New Order, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Patrick Wolf, Pelle Carlberg, The Pipettes, Primal Scream, Pulp, Rachel Stevens, The Research, Robbie Williams & Kylie Minogue, Ryan Adams, Saturday Looks Good To Me, Saul Williams, Saves The Day, Sebastian Tellier, Sergeant Buzfuz, Snow White, Spiller feat. Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Stars, The Streets, Sufjan Stevens, Sugababes, Sunset Rubdown, Super Furry Animals, Tim Ten Yen, The Ting Tings, Town Bike, The Unicorns, Von Sudenfed, The Wave Pictures, Why?, Wyclef Jean, XX Teens and You Slut!.


Chris said...

Shame this didn't make it in time for the Noughties by Nature project, as it's an excellent song choice and a fantastic analysis (made all the more impressive that Clinic lyrics are often unintelligible!). I'd never have thought of the interpretation you gave, as I'd always thought when Blackburn sang 'my baby' that he was referring to a girl, rather than an actual baby, but I think it's a great shout and very well supported evidentially.

The Archivist said...

Thanks for kind words. Who knows re 'baby'?! This interpretation has stuck with me since I first heard it so cannot think otherwise now!