(Domino; 2006)

By Dom Sinacola | 6 November 2007

I say, why wouldn’t Clinic, that gang of grind house toughs, those four lads from Liverpool, why can’t we just admit how they’re -- probably -- the coolest dudes around? I mean, I’m supposing a general consensus about the band: we, as a total, are generally reluctant to call Clinic a cool bunch of dudes. For me, and I’m repping myself half-heartedly with the we, the fact was never too apparent. And it’s funny how much that reflects my own social adroitness, because if I couldn’t discern just how cool Clinic was, and can only discern how cool the currently are, then I must be severely uncool. I must swipe at the freeziest blocks of ice in town with a Playskool hammer of draconian nerd-dom, because I missed something, now with Visitations, so obvious to so many others. Of course, this means when I say “we” it’s translated “me,” and I apologize for the desperation. Stained armpits are not attractive.

The album’s brief, and that could be for two reasons. First, a lot of what they’ve accomplished in the past has been lengthy, repetitive to a science, but completely realized because of it; produced goddamned well. So, the brevity of Visitations, while not distracting, is draped with a raggy veil of obligation. In a vacuum, this new Clinic acts like a punk band brimming with hope instead of with pride. But, up against Walking With Thee (2002) and their 2000 debut, Internal Wrangler, the John Woo gunplay of grim electro-pop, Clinic’s fourth LP is a barrel of empty chambers too few. This reason could be economical, a chance to prove there’s frankness in their groove. If the past was buttressed by a metered pace and a sly patience of melodica slink, then Visitations is a response. For that, the album weakens when nostalgia rears its quivering whiskers, when “Visitations” is more warble and black space than an emphasis of deserved, fat out melody, when you -- by which I mean I -- can actually hear the dust motes arraying in constellations behind the Battlestar Galacatica of Luddite mood; when “Animal Human” broadcasts from a fissure on the moon, jerked awake from the slumber of space to screech and writhe. No death throes here, but for these songs, and for a gauze over many others, formula starts to sag. What I mean is that too often, already tuned into the strangely sexy craft of their former triumphs, the band relies on finding a balance between parts, between shuffling squall and snapping drumkit, between shuffling squall and fractured harpsichord. As if that’s a reinvention in itself. Only, after Winchester Cathedral (2004), it’s just more fine-tuning.

More on that. The second reason this album could be so brief is a simple adherence to titular connotation, a simultaneous continuation of Winchester Cathedral’s “changed” sound and an oblique sense of historic gain. Clinic seems to be channeling a wiggler of an amoeba, sucking up the disparity of post-punk, the circular idealism of new wave, the slouch of no wave, and the leer of Americana, where a shift in time signature, in “Jigsaw Man,” is a matter of attitude or a lisp in the bongos, which isn’t really true, but convincing enough to end this sentence. Among others; my criticism isn’t counting on anything immutable: “Tusk’s” mountain-hoofed guitars and full bladder cymbals do not a punk song [safety-]pin. Instead, we’re dealing with specters of viscera. By we I mean me. Me? Influences are on the tip of my cortex, obscured by a Clinic too drawled, too laconic, and one album too into a distance from their melodica/programmed/gleaming/drum-
infatuated niche to help.

Is this lazy, then? An attempt to further reinvent the band in a guise of anything as long as it isn’t the same as what they’ve mastered before? I’d go as far as to accept that they’re just consolidating the cool. “If You Could Read Your Mind” is all lead singer Ade Blackburn, typically pissed or piss drunk, slurring dubious images of love or abuse between whispers, whoops, and, again, the melodica, which is toned down, even struggling for omniscience, but still a staple husk. In fact, the band’s always expressed a bleating noir dichotomy, half loping genitals and half fatal fandango. They’ve even been able to resignify the normally goofy melodica into a tool of swagger and fathomless mood. “Children of Kellog,” burying the woozy sound in punchy, grit-leaden guitars, is still briskly aloof. Tinny bells and delayed hi-hats do nothing to mute struggling worms of bass and tremor. But, where’s the warmth? “Sunlight Bathes Our Home” warranted the homier chops, and even aloofness can take a break. How long can a band seem to just not give two shits?

Visitations is cold. Perhaps their canon has just been a slope towards the frozen south, Fonzi-ing its way down with sunglassed thumbs stuck up, pointing back towards the much nerdier avant pop of previous days and previous surgical masks, but something’s hollow here. Something’s moth-bitten, past the fuzzed, raw production and past the winking corner of the block, where Radiohead’s posse’s dried up and a new cool reigns. Yet, for all the cool points this album allows, if Clinic tightens any more fists and goes any more apathetic, we’ll have the unholy hate child of the Strokes and the Knife on our hands. And who would really want something like that, cool cats or no?