The masked men, slightly averagely, return...
The trouble was, Clinic were perfect in the beginning. Blazing out of
Liverpool dressed in blood-spattered surgeon’s overalls, brandishing a single
called ‘IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth’ that sounded like New York City
synth-punks Suicide strung up by the neck with John Cale’s piano wire, they
were the indie band that restored your faith in indie bands: a shot of
sneering punk-rock malcontent right in the arm.
Right now, too, their star is in the ascendant. Hand-picked by Thom Yorke to
support Radiohead on the world-conquering ‘Kid A’ tour, Clinic are now the
toast of the discerning American lo-fi fraternity. Their second album, ‘Walking With Thee’
should just be a mere formality.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. Not for the reasons most commonly cited, though. No, the critical assumption
that Clinic were mere Velvet Underground copyists was always laughably awry.
From the beginning, these four Scouse lads were rock’s Dr Frankensteins, devious graverobbers stitching
together gobbets of avant-garde musical history – Crime, The Shangri-La’s,
Joe Meek, Phil Spector, The Stooges – into
one monstrous, complete whole.
But on ‘Walking With Thee’, Clinic suddenly sound more like vultures than
magpies. The opening three tracks – ‘Harmony’, ‘The Equaliser’, and ‘Welcome’
stalk past with a sinister rattle: a retread of past glories, sure, but none
the worse for it. But it’s around the sixth track, ‘Come Into Our Room’ – a
teeth-grindingly familiar murk of drum machine sputter and chill vibraphone
squeal that clings to formula like a malnourished infant – that your patience
finally snaps. Throughout the album, singer Ade Blackburn sounds like some tragic Faustian
character, granted the backdrop to spirit the music of his heroes into sound,
but cursed to lack the soul to bring it to life. The lush, touching
‘Distortions’ was a highlight of Clinic‘s debut, ‘Internal Wrangler’. It
finds no equivalent here.
‘Walking With Thee’ is barely forty minutes in length, but feels about half
that length – not because it flies by, but because throughout, it barely
feels substantial. Clinic really need to pull off a bold leap of faith – an
‘OK Computer’, a ‘Kid A’, even – to prove there really is something behind
the mask. Honestly, they’re [I]still[/I] a fascinating concept. Sadly, here they just sound like a bit of an