By the time their debut LP, Internal Wrangler, arrived in 2000, Clinic had already cultivated a healthy underground following; having formed in 1997, the (at the time) art punk outfit had recorded a healthy number of singles which had served to raise awareness of a rock group still in its embryonic stage.
These early singles had reflected the group's unique fusion of punk rock and loftier artistic pretensions, blended together along with some other notable influences, resulting in a distinctive hybrid of disparate genres that helped the group attract fans looking for something different in the stale contemporary rock scene.
This eponymous collection compiles the group's first three singles, complete with two B-sides for each A-side, thus clocking in at nine tracks in total. At such a short length the CD is hardly a masterful epic, but it still adroitly illustrates the band's idiosyncratic sound back when they were little more than a fledgling rock act trying to carve a name for themselves on the indie circuits.
The usual expectations for a single are one strong potential hit and some lackluster B-sides as padding, but there certainly have been some bands who take pride in their craft to the extent that they invest a comparable amount of effort in their B-sides as well, elevating what would usually be an occasion for tossed off filler into an indispensable handful of tracks that reward those willing to risk stomaching B-sides along with rarity hunters who'll track down the single for the sake of their obsessive completionist tendencies.
Given that B-sides amount to two thirds of the CD it's fortunate that the band has indeed taken the time to hone their craft on the B-sides as well; some of them still constitute filler (albeit of the inoffensive variety), like the desultory heavy jam D.T. (unlike the similar D.P. which at least musters some hard rock excitement, along with conjuring associations through its name that one wouldn't necessarily want to attach to a rock song), but for the most part the B-sides are highly entertaining, from the atmospheric Porno to the moody Kimberley to the stellar rocker Evil Bill. Many of these numbers lack lyrics, and thus vocal melodies, but the musicians compensate for this deficiency with their energetic, inspired performances.
The A-sides are uniformly superb, from the whimsical L.P.C. Subeditors Dictate Our Youth with its great guitar/organ interplay to the catchy Monkey On Your Back with its irresistible pop overtones to the immensely entertaining rocker Cement Mixer with its plentiful hooks and driving power.
The CD gives a good indication of Clinic's creative style, and while they would change radically over the years this is a good place to start for those who want to become familiar with the band's sound. Marrying the relentless energy of punk to more intellectual and complex arrangements and animating the proceedings with a healthy supply of pop hooks and the occasional heavy jamming, Clinic combine assorted rock and roll elements to produce material that the group may not have invented anything new for but nonetheless, by assimilating a plethora of unique influences, has its own identity, a conglomerate of inspirations culled from the full spectrum of rock and roll music with imagination and precision.
While indispensable as an introduction to the band, anyone who's already a fan of the group's later output is strongly encouraged to listen to this CD to get a greater understanding of the group's genesis and subsequent progression. Most importantly, regardless of the extent of one's familiarity with Clinic one's still apt to enjoy the CD immensely, as at heart it's simply a solid collection of catchy, well written songs by a group exploring their great innate potential for the first time. The CD may lack the depth and maturity of the band's later work, but if anything that makes it a more valuable find for Clinic veterans, who are doubtless eager to experience a stripped down, less ambitious version of the group, whose sole intention is to make exciting, axiomatically entertaining rock music rather than make a profound artistic statement. The latter is certainly a valid and admirable goal as well, and led to the band's peak material, but every now and then it's acceptable to indulge in some primal, enjoyable music bereft of higher ambitions or assorted artistic agendas.
By the turn of the century it had become abundantly clear that Clinic was ready for their first major artistic statement; after honing their craft with a plethora of impressive singles Clinic had more than proven their worth as a rock ensemble, eminently qualified for a full fledged debut.
Unfortunately while the group was certainly ready for their first LP, the album itself, Internal Wrangler, sadly wasn't; clocking in at a mere thirty minutes, the disc is little more than a glorified EP, evidently the product of a last minute rush for release.
Clinic had simply not recorded a sufficient number of songs to fill what was supposed to be their big coming out party, a situation exacerbated by the presence of myriad short, instrumental segues, like Voodoo Wop, DJ Shangri-La, Hippy Death Suite and C.Q, (admittedly C.Q. features some lyrics, but it can hardly be regarded as a fully realized song); there's no inherent problem with transitional music of this nature, and they're all tastefully handled, but when diminutive links of this nature constitute a major part of the album's track listing it becomes apparent that Internal Wrangler's release may have been a tad premature.
Fortunately, the album's extreme brevity is not an insurmountable obstacle, simply preventing Internal Wrangler from reaching the status of a true classic; it's still a profoundly enjoyable affair, as each fully developed song has much to offer the listener, ensuring that the LP, in spite of any fundamental failings, remains a success.
Clinic have fashioned a truly unique sound, as illustrated on their early singles; their style has dramatically changed since their early excursions, however, as Internal Wrangler largely eschews the trappings of punk in favor of an affinity for contemporary alternative rock. There are still throwbacks to the band's flirtation with punk, and in no way does the album conform to a standard or predictable definition of quintessential alt rock, but this musical paradigm shift certainly bears mentioning, as it's an important step in the group's growth and development.
The band have grown considerably as songwriters by the time of Internal Wrangler, making for a more diverse and accomplished listen. Highlights include the pair of dark rockers The Return Of Evil Bill and the title track; the former is underpinned by a stellar riff, and while it conjures memories of its forbearer, the B-side instrumental Evil Bill, it represents a huge step forward from its predecessor, while the song Internal Wrangler boasts a moody vocal treatment that accentuates its ominous undercurrent.
Elsewhere Earth Angel is actually tranquil and soothing, a prospect that was hard to envision amidst the frenetic sonic chaos of the band's early singles, T.K. rocks convincingly, and the closer, Goodnight Georgie, is a pretty yet unsettling lullaby.
Clinic betray their influences on Distortions, a song that essentially revamps (though by no means improves upon) The Velvet Underground for a new millennium, complete with incongruous drum machines and vocals that don't quite capture all the nuances of Lou Reed's signature delivery. While hardly bettering the work of Clinic's role models it's still an entertaining song, and the gambit pays off by injecting more diversity into the proceedings, a necessary component for a group that sometimes seems in danger of slipping into a set formula and growing stale.
Nonetheless, as enjoyable as the fully fleshed out songs are it doesn't change the fact that there's a severe paucity of impressive content on the album; with the instrumental interludes between tracks stripped away and the literally nonexistent track thirteen factored in there are less than ten real songs, all of which are uniformly short, none of them even reaching the four minute mark. This brevity heavily curtails an otherwise extremely strong product, and had the group been allotted at least a modicum of extra time to consolidate their material then Internal Wrangler may very well have attained true greatness. As it stands it's still a very good album from a highly distinctive and talented rock outfit, certainly meriting a listen from not only any fan of the alternative rock genre but likewise any adventurous listener in search of quality music amidst the endless effluvia of the contemporary rock scene.
Walking With Thee is doubtless the album that Internal Wrangler would have been had Clinic taken the time to produce more developed material for their full length debut; bereft of the instrumental segues designed to mask the dearth of more meaningful content on their prior outing, the band's sophomore effort contains eleven fully realized numbers, each imbued with the care and craftsmanship that characterized the group's better contributions on their previous offering.
Quantity isn't the only department in which Walking With Thee bests its predecessor, however; songs like the haunting opener Harmony and the subtly menacing rock of the title track surpass even the best efforts on Internal Wrangler, more sophisticated in both composition and arrangement.
Also, while hardly graced by a slick, glossy millennial production treatment the album certainly received greater care and attention in the studio than its predecessor had, and while the raw sound of Internal Wrangler certainly had its charm it's clear that Clinic's material benefits from greater sonic clarity and more precise mixes.
The caliber of the band's songwriting throughout the album is of the highest order, resulting in a stellar set-list devoid of any filler or misfires; the brilliance of Harmony and the title track has already been alluded to, but every song has something worthwhile to offer, be it irresistible hooks or compelling atmospherics.
Furthermore, Clinic are determined to dispel any potential for monotony, thus providing a sonic experience that manages to be diverse while always playing to the band's strengths, sustaining overarching thematics while still exhibiting the extent of the band's versatility.
Thus Pet Eunuch is an exhilarating burst of primal punk energy and pulsing garage rock, the album's only instance of the previously ubiquitous heavy onslaughts that typified Clinic's early work, while Mr. Moonlight is a more sedate, calming experience in the vein of Internal Wrangler's Earth Angel. The closer, For The Wars, is a masterpiece of cathartic beauty, a rare case when the customarily emotionally distancing Clinic attempt to truly move the listener and establish a deeper rapport with their audience, while Come Into Our Room is simultaneously catchy, unnerving and ominous with a melody that's quintessential Clinic without being clichéd or derivative.
The album certainly doesn't break any new ground, rather coming across as a sequel to Internal Wrangler as opposed to a radically new musical experience, but given the level of quality throughout this transgression can easily be forgiven; Walking With Thee improves upon its predecessor in nearly every department, indicative of the band's growth as songwriters in a remarkably short span of time.
Internal Wrangler was an eminently worthwhile offering and a highly auspicious debut, but thanks to its brevity (though Walking With Thee is only about ten minutes longer, hardly an epic in its own right) the album's entertainment value was fleeting; it boasted often brilliant songwriting and impeccable performances, but was limited by the apparent hastiness of its creation. Walking With Thee corrects this mistake, ultimately casting it as the album that Internal Wrangler should have been. While hardly much of a departure from its predecessor, Walking With Thee offers everything that made Internal Wrangler a minor masterpiece but in greater volume, along with the expected subtle improvement in the songwriting department that comes with age and experience.
Ergo Walking With Thee is a clear indication of what Clinic has to offer. Thanks to the band's alternative rock dynamics, experimental tendencies, tenebrous vibe and moody vocals the inevitable comparisons to Radiohead have been made, associations reinforced by the fact that Thom Yorke and company recruited the group to function as their opening act on one of their tours; while I wouldn't dispute the veracity of these claims, as there are certainly evident correlations between the two alt rock outfits, Clinic are very much their own band, a distinctive musical entity that may have its influences but always makes them its own. A unique, idiosyncratic group, Clinic have fulfilled the promise they demonstrated on their early singles, taking what worked from their past while discarding their less successful elements, thus fashioning themselves into one of the most impressive groups of recent years. Walking With Thee is the culmination of these laborious efforts, an excellent rock album that establishes Clinic as one of the premier groups of the new millennium.
It's dangerous when rock groups become too keenly aware of their own strengths and weaknesses; on the one hand, orienting albums around one's merits can result in entertaining experiences bereft of any real misfires, as is the case with Winchester Cathedral, but it can also lead to formulaic, predictable and overly familiar listens, as is sadly also the case with Clinic's third offering.
One could say that this phenomenon was already demonstrated on Walking With Thee, but at least the band's sophomore effort exhibited tangible signs of progression over Internal Wrangler; Winchester Cathedral is practically a carbon copy of its predecessor, resulting in an album with few surprises, devoid of nearly any innovation or risk taking.
While experimentation can often lead to erratic and desultory experiences, it at least ensures than an album can never grow too monotonous or uniform; Winchester Cathedral simply plays it safe on all counts, and while there are indeed virtues inherent to this approach the lack of inventiveness can dilute the excitement that Clinic attempt to cultivate on the album, as no matter how impressive the songs are one can't shake the feeling that they've heard it before, and possibly better.
While there are measures taken to engender some diversity into the proceedings and thus dispel the potential for one note tedium, they're precisely the same measures taken on their previous outing. Ergo there's the obligatory incongruous energetic punk rocker (which, of course, has to have an acronym for its name to conform to the band's curious customs with regard to song nomenclature), the shot of adrenaline that is W.D.Y.Y.B, and the mandatory softer, more emotional anthem, in this case the tender ballad Falstaff. While both songs serve their purpose they're also indicative of the group's lack of inspiration, as they religiously adhere to the blueprints of the band's earlier work, infusing an artificial, contrived and manufactured air into the album's supposed diversity.
These complaints may seem like insurmountable obstacles toward enjoying Winchester Cathedral, but this couldn't be further from the truth; while its shameless plagiarism of the band's past work does indeed act as a catalyst for myriad repercussions, some quite severe, it doesn't change the fact that the band's formula is sufficiently strong that when adroitly implemented, as it certainly is here, it will invariably result in a highly entertaining experience.
What the album lacks in terms of originality it compensates for with sheer consistency and enjoyment value. The songwriting on Winchester Cathedral is uniformly strong, unmistakably in the band's usual style but with plenty of clever hooks to counteract this ingrained familiarity.
Every song has something to offer, and even the band's foray into avant garde, the flirtation with dissonance entitled Vertical Take Off In Egypt, is melodic enough to be quite enjoyable.
Admittedly nearly every track is firmly entrenched in Clinic's signature style, but this style remains completely unique to the group so they can be forgiven for never deviating too far from their comfort zone.
Tracks like the stomping rocker The Magician, the ominous opener Country Mile and the catchy Thank You (For Living) constitute high points, but the album is remarkably consistent and nearly any number could be cited as a Clinic classic. By the end the songs might seem to blend together, an innate peril for any group with such a uniform sound, but the album wisely eschews the bloated lengths of most contemporary rock enterprises; furthermore each track is short, with no song never hitting the four minute mark, and this ensures that no opus ever outlasts its welcome, evading any potential for the numbers, no matter how fundamentally similar they are, ever sounding truly interchangeable; each alternative anthem makes its unique point quickly and precisely and then ends before the overarching resemblances between the songs can grow too flagrant or obvious.
Thus Winchester Cathedral is another resounding success for Clinic, a heavily flawed but still quite accomplished affair whose merits will invariably overshadow its failings, no matter how egregious they may seem. The album is undeniably a rehash of its predecessors, particularly Walking With Thee, but in addition to its style it also inherited the strengths of that modern day classic, merits that make Winchester Cathedral impossible to simply dismiss as an inferior sequel or shameless rip-off. While its pervasive familiarity prevents the album from becoming a true classic, it's still a very good album, a quintessential Clinic release that will instantly appeal to any fan of the group (as long as they can overcome its lack of growth or progression) while indoctrinating no new fans with even the slightest aversion to the group's signature style into the ranks of the alternative rock outfit's devotees.
It may seem hypocritical to lambaste Winchester Cathedral for its lack of artistic progression and subsequently assign it a higher grade than Visitations, an album that makes genuine strides toward restoring the freshness of the band and offering a comparatively unique experience, but as dangerous as remaining stylistically static, risking staleness and stagnation, can be, change alone is not an inherently good thing; in order to work, these changes must be deftly orchestrated, devised to suit the band's strengths and complement their ambitions.
These changes, however, aren't what mar the listening experience provided by Visitations; on the contrary, these changes are cleverly implemented, and constitute one of the album's greatest assets. Rather, the problem that afflicts Visitations is a far simpler one; the quality of the band's songwriting just isn't up to par with their prior endeavors, preventing Visitations from reaching the heights of its full length predecessors.
This isn't to say that the songwriting is bad; on the contrary, the album boasts myriad strong melodies and memorable hooks. Clinic have, however, set very high standards for themselves on their previous outings, and Visitations, as accomplished as it may be, doesn't measure up when compared to their earlier work.
As for the stylistic changes depicted on Visitations, they're hardly drastic in nature; the group doesn't dramatically reinvent themselves or have an epiphanic experience that reinvigorates their creative faculties. In fact, the album's changes can scarcely be called a 'progression,' as most of the new developments revolve around recapturing the past as opposed to envisioning a bold new future.
The sound of Visitations hearkens back to the group's early singles, with a rawer, rougher and dirtier edge that dispels the glossy studio sheen acquired in recent years. There's a greater emphasis on guitarwork, with distortion drowning out the crystal clarity of the group's usual soundscapes. The album's sound restores the immediacy that the band's work had been lacking in recent years, a more axiomatic sound that the group's newer arrangements had balked at in favor of heightened maturity, intelligence and sophistication.
While this paradigm shift wouldn't, under normal circumstances, constitute a clear cut improvement, representing an item of controversy destined for heated contention amongst the group's fanbase, on Visitations it's a welcome departure; whether it makes the music better is certainly debatable, but this renaissance of Clinic's early years is simply exceedingly refreshing after the uniformity of the band's recent work. No longer precariously teetering on the brink of staleness, Clinic have reemerged with a far more self-assured, purposeful entry in their discography; by revisiting their past they've recaptured some of their youthful enthusiasm, ensuring that while this new direction may be a reversion it's by no means a regression.
Songs like the single Harvest, while unmistakably owing much to the band's recent output, is all the more haunting for its comparatively raw, primal sound, while punk rockers like Tusk become furious sonic juggernauts when infused with the energy that typified the group's early offerings.
This return to the band's early aural aesthetics doesn't signify the atrophy or dismissal of the group's more cerebral side, and Clinic are still clearly willing to experiment; Animal/Human begins with slurred, scarcely decipherable vocals superimposed over a minimalistic backdrop, only to segue into a wah-wah pedal enhanced guitar solo, while the tenebrous Jigsaw Man revolves around acoustic guitarwork, a first for a band that previously only highlighted the instrument on select rockers in which cases distorted electrics were invariably preferred to anything of a more restrained variety.
While Interlude, which solely consists of a the album's titled being endlessly repeated for a short span of time, is hardly necessary, most of the group's experimentation pays off, complementing the renewed excitement brought on by the more viscerally charged musical experience.
The integration of these elements virtually ensures a top tier Clinic experience but, as alluded to before, these new merits are compromised by a slight downswing in the caliber of the songwriting. Tracks like the powerful rocker Family are entertaining, but they're purely Clinic by numbers, and Family's rawer dynamics can't save the song from descending into the realm of genericism and mere adequacy.
It's unfair to isolate Family in this manner, as it's no more culpable in this regard than many of the album's other compositions. The songs' generic natures aren't the problem so much as the fact that many of them fail to register on a meaningful level, with melodies that simply lack inspiration when compared to the group's better work. This renders such songs enjoyable but ultimately superficial, an adrenaline rush lacking in depth or substance.
Nevertheless the bulk of the album is quite entertaining, making for an eminently worthwhile experience in the long run. Embracing the group's more punk-oriented past turned out to be a successful gambit, leading to a fresher listen after the overarching similarity of its predecessors, thus even transfiguring some of the album's lesser moments into experiences from which one can derive at least a modicum of enjoyment. While the songwriting can be erratic more often than not Clinic are in good form, resulting in a flawed but still very strong album.
There's certainly an inherent stigma when it comes to B-sides, a justifiable cynicism born of the apathy and neglect that rock artists customarily exhibit when it comes to the medium. More often than not a B-side will be a tossed off effort while the real energy and labor will be devoted to the A-side, wherein the true profits lie. A customer's seldom apt to purchase a single based on a B-side, sporting tunnel vision directed exclusively at the A-side they desire. Meanwhile the B-side will be thought of as a nice bonus if it's even listened to at all.
That's why B-side collections, much like rarity compilations and gratuitous EPs that'll grow obsolete once a real album renders most of their tracks redundant, are often perceived as shameless exploitation, as the record companies manage to extort extra cash from obsessive completists who'll buy any product associated with their favorite groups no matter how worthless or poor offerings they are.
As appropriate as this skepticism is, there are groups that devote genuine craft and effort to their B-sides, making them more than superfluous foils to the superior A-sides, and, as had already been made apparent on their self-titled 3 single collection, Clinic are one such band.
Which isn't to say that their B-sides are comparable with their singles or better album tracks; Funf, for all its unjustly forgotten gems, is not on the same level as Clinic's full length fare. The B-side collection contains myriad entertaining numbers, but few that could be construed as worthy of inclusion on the likes of Walking With Thee or Internal Wrangler.
Clinic were apparently committed to producing good B-sides, but even with this noble ambition and dedication to their craft in mind they weren't about to squander their best material on the flip side of a single that would seldom receive any play no matter how much effort they put into it. People have been conditioned to expect little from a B-side, and operating under this arguably misguided mindset few would be apt to even give a B-side a chance to prove its worth.
Clinic understood this, and for this reason they deserve to be commended even if they didn't devote all of their resources toward penning classic B-sides; the fact of the matter is that they resisted the temptation to simply toss off inferior material, and even if they failed to generate any timeless classics in this department they still often produced solid, entertaining content.
Thus Funf is an enjoyable, if flawed listen. Tracks like the moody Christmas and the catchy The Castle are quite enjoyable, but numbers like the headache inducing burst of abrasive sound that is the minute long Nicht are emblematic of one of the collection's worst vices, namely sporadic, unfortunate lapses into dissonance at the expense of strong melodies.
Elsewhere punk rockers like Circle 1 are interchangeable with just about every other track of this nature to appear on a Clinic album, while Magic Boots sounds like a feeble attempt to emulate the Pixies.
Nevertheless, the CD remains enjoyable for the most part. It lacks the thrill of discovery that helped animate many of the lesser numbers on their self-titled collection, B-sides that otherwise might have received comparably harsh critiques, but it still stands tall on its own merits, with a sufficient number of strong tracks to warrant a look from any fan of the band. Funf can't compare to a true Clinic album, but as a B-side collection it acquits itself admirably, serving its purpose with regard to both entertainment and historical relevance.
As tends to be the case with each successive new Clinic album, one must subject the CD to intense scrutiny in order to identify the factors that truly differentiate it from the band's prior outings, and after this laborious endeavor only a paucity of disparities will become evident to even the most diligent of listeners.
Do It! isn't a carbon copy of its predecessor, Visitations, but its resemblance is certainly unmistakable; calling it a rehash would be a bit too harsh but few would debate its status as a stylistically conservative effort. There's only a modicum of artistic progression displayed on the album, and while there are tangible differences between Do It! and the band's other work they're few and far between.
Some of these changes amount to little more than simply pushing the band's direction even further in areas that had already been explored. There was an abundance of distorted guitarwork on Visitations, but on Do It! this element becomes nearly ubiquitous. The band's affinity for such abrasive dynamics has never been more pronounced, leading to moments where the group's ongoing romance with outright dissonance advances far beyond the stage of idle flirtation. This could be an homage to Clinic's punk roots, or even an attempt to recapture that side of their persona, but the fact of the matter is that the band had long since progressed beyond their punk origins, to the extent that their continued presence in the group's aural arsenal has become a liability. Whether or not it betrays their humble beginnings the band would be wise to eschew this chronic dissonance; while growing pretentious certainly has deleterious effects as well, clutching to their latent punk tendencies merely serves to mar what progress the band has made, obstructing their growth as artists. An occasional harmless chaotic punk interlude like Shopping Bag is harmless, as it enables the group's to compartmentalize their sound without altogether excising this side of it, confining and containing that aspect of themselves into a single track, but when this discordance seeps into more mature numbers then troubles begin to emerge.
Beyond this increase in distortion there's little to distinguish Do It! from albums like Visitations. This dearth of progression has come to be expected, however, and doesn't prevent the album from being eminently enjoyable. Like on Visitations the caliber of the songwriting can be a tad erratic, but no track is overtly offensive from a qualitative standpoint and there are a handful of true Clinic classics that surpass any offering from their previous venture.
These classics include the haunting Corpus Christi with its moody vocals and tenebrous atmospherics, the bitter High Coin with its stellar riff and subtle menace and the powerful rocker Winged Wheel with another brilliant riff and adept usage of distortion.
While none of the other tracks achieve the level reached by this terrific trio, the album tends to sustain an impressive level of quality throughout, from the ominous Tomorrow to the pretty Free Not Free to the irresistible Mary And Eddie. There are some tracks that could be dismissed as filler, but they don't detract too much from an otherwise highly entertaining listen.
Thus Do It! is an enjoyable album that I'd call an improvement over the already strong Visitations. An inconsistent nature and lack of progress over past works prevent it from becoming a true classic, but it can certainly be recommended to any fan of the group; everything that one looks for in a Clinic album can be found here, albeit not on each individual track.
It's almost a bad thing for a group to find themselves too quickly. Truth be told, witnessing a band's growing pains can be quite enjoyable, observing how they bend and contort their sound in an effort to find their rock and roll niche. This leads to experimentation, youthful missteps and other such entertaining antics that a band with a set identity would tend to abstain from. Groups can become all too conservative when they've already established their sound, eschewing risk-taking in favor of simply playing it safe.
It would seem that Clinic found themselves all too quickly. While their initial art-punk escapades were certainly unique, by Internal Wrangler Clinic had made great strides in fashioning their musical persona, and by Walking With Thee the band was firmly entrenched in their signature alt-rock style.
Unfortunately, by peaking at such an early stage of their careers, Clinic never really had the chance to engage in any meaningful sonic explorations. Predictably enough, Winchester Cathedral was largely a stylistic rehash of its predecessor. This was most definitely cause for concern as, counterintuitive as it may seem, a rock band can even grow stale doing what they do best. Clinic were producing brilliant music while simultaneously becoming formulaic, playing first-rate alternative rock anthems despite being stuck in a creative rut.
Clinic recognized this, and tried for something different with Visitations and Do It! These were largely stopgap measures, however, as opposed to the artistic overhaul that was needed. Once again the band found themselves at a crossroads, confronted with a dilemma that could not easily be overcome.
Change was needed, but the process of changing is far more complex than one would imagine. On Bubblegum Clinic do indeed change, but the very manner in which they change is most troubling. Clinic essentially take the ingredients that have always composed their sound and put a different twist on them. Thus while the style may have changed the substance certainly hasn't. The fundamental components of Clinic's work remain unaltered to such a degree that at times it's scarcely possible to say that the band have changed at all.
Putting a different spin on the same elements rather than introducing new ideas is the laziest method of change imaginable, dispelling any hope for meaningful musical progression. This may be an unfair appraisal, however, as it's natural for a band like Clinic who had already found their identity to be reluctant to dramatically alter their formula. Nevertheless, when listening to a band trying to present themselves in a new light, it's understandable to be irked upon finding what's essentially the same material as always, albeit in a different style.
This new style is problematic for more reasons than its window-dressing status. Truth be told, Clinic's new sound is simply not even remotely suitable for the band. On Bubblegum, Clinic embrace a chronic mellowness, one that sucks all of the vitality, edge and excitement from the band's material.
At their best Clinic had been anything but mellow. From the raw, exhilarating instrumental onslaught of the early EPs to the dynamic edginess of Walking With Thee, Clinic thrived on music that confronted the listener rather than lulling him to sleep. On Bubblegum Clinic have been thoroughly defanged, stripped of the qualities that excited, thrilled and assaulted their audience.
Part of the reason for this mellowness is a misguided attempt to make the music beautiful. Beauty is something that the band never strove for in the past, and for good reason. Clinic's arrangements just aren't conducive to aural splendor, as there's a certain icy detachment and innate rawness that permeates their work. Worse, they are attempting to achieve this newfound gorgeous ideal while retaining the fundamentals of their old sound, and these are ingredients that simply can't be transfigured into anything that could come even remotely close to approximating beauty. It's true that much can be done to prod, stretch and mold certain elements, but no makeover could ever change a set sound into something so completely alien to it.
Thus it's unsurprising that it's the rockers Lion Tamer, Evelyn and Orangutan that are the most entertaining numbers on the album. Even these tracks, however, feel a bit contrived and forced when compared to classic Clinic fare, revealing that their greatest appeal is their function as respites from the relentless mellowness.
This reinforces another point, one that takes precedence over all that has come before. The songwriting on Bubblegum is simply sub par by the band's standards. Mellowness can't always be the scapegoat, and the truth is that even the most mellow passages could have been salvaged if they carried enough melodic heft. There's a severe paucity of creative hooks on the album, a situation that's exacerbated by, rather than caused by, the mellowness.
Thus this is a case of bad ingredients presented in a bad away, something that I never would have anticipated from a band as previously consistent as Clinic. Some may attribute this to the fact that the group were trying something new, but I believe that with such an impaired songwriting prowess Clinic would have been incapable of performing at their usual high level even if they were operating in their accepted comfort zone.
I don't believe that returning to the classic Clinic sound is an adequate remedy for the band's problems. Whatever they do next, be it a return to the Walking With Thee template or further artistic digression, must be accompanied by strong songwriting, and no stylistic shifts can change that reality.
It's easy to say that Clinic shouldn't be mellow, but it's just as hard to say that they should be using the old style. Armchair coaching won't lead to good albums, and no one can be quite sure what direction the band should take. I do firmly believe that further mellowness will be detrimental to the Clinic sound, but that doesn't mean that I recommend any specific pathway for the group. I simply hope that they prove that Bubblegum is an anomaly, one that will never be repeated again.