When I asked them last December what 2010’s record, their sixth studio album, would sound like Clinic said “David Soul and a bit of Electric Eels”. Misdirection? Or was this cryptic combination actually the masterplan behind the sound of “Bubblegum” released this week?
For earlier this year it was announced that “Bubblegum” would be a ‘re-wiring’ of the trademark Clinic sound. This made me somewhat nervous. Not only am I of the “if it ain’t broke” school of thought, I love their - largely unchanging – art-punk-surf-garage sound. B-sides often offer a playground for experimentation with some bands but with Clinic these also conform to the decade-long formula (check the excellent compilation “Funf” for proof). Only the last track on 2008’s “Do It!”, the spoken word ‘Coda’, trod new ground.
The first outing for the new Clinic sound was the single 'I’m Aware' in August - and it admirably lived up to the promise/threat “of a dream state of harpsichord, dulcimers and strings”.
And the remaining twelve tracks? The first thing to say is that “Bubblegum” is still recognisably a Clinic album. And it’s not simply an acoustic makeover.
If previous Clinic songs were a magpie-raid on the sixties to purloin surf-rock and garage fuzz and make it their own, here the raiding party snaffle library music and acoustic psychedelia from the same decade. But be clear this is not lounge music – despite the title and cover artwork this is no bachelor-pad bossa nova soundtrack to making cocktails. Instead the basic structures are in place and recognisable – the chugging rhythms and hooks, the short repeated lines and the familiar vocals of Ade Blackburn. But it is all wrapped up in softer sounds, different instrumentation and a mellower vibe - and because it is less abrasive and cryptic (you can HEAR the words) it becomes more direct and emotionally engaging.
So the vocals on ‘Baby’ still possess an ambiguous (possibly menacing) tension but it is set against seductive wah-wah guitar and an Al Green-like slinkiness. Several songs address women by name suggestive of romantic sixties balladry but even the most ‘straight’ of these ‘Linda’ (“you’re high as a kite”) subverts its pleasant acoustic strum with some abrupt wind-tunnel whistles and hisses. Yes it is mellow chamber-pop but still on Clinic’s own terms. For those disoriented the most familiar territory is provided by ‘Lion Tamer’: vintage organ over an emphatic drum pattern – but also in the mix: a xylophone(?). And ‘Radiostory’ picks up where ‘Coda’ left off: a plum-voiced and eccentric spoken word narration that could easily pass for Vivian Stanshall.
Does it all sound like David Soul even with Electric Eels influence? Or Al Green? It’s as misleading or reductive as saying "Internal Wrangler" sounds like The Velvet Underground or krautrock or The Sonics. There's a surprising amount of variety on the album but I occasionally yearn for some of that acerbic edge, frenetic energy or noisy skronk - but there is an extensive back catalogue to satisfy that need. What “Bubblegum” has done in broadening their musical palette has given new depth to their songs and given me a fresh relationship with Clinic. And I’m sold.
I suspect many fans will be too. Now what I’m really interested to know is what those coming to Clinic for the first time make of this mellow state of affairs. Dreamy? Or disapproving?
Later this month Clinic tour the UK in support of “Bubblegum” before a US tour in November.
21 Oct SWN Festival, Cardiff
22 Oct The Deaf Institute, Manchester
23 Oct Static Gallery, Liverpool
25 Oct The Georgian Theatre, Stockton On Tees
26 Oct Stereo, Glasgow
27 Oct The Bodega, Nottingham
28 Oct Village Underground, London
29 Oct The Cockpit, Leeds
"Baby" by Clinic
Clinic Bubblegum [BUY]