Tonight, [a]Clinic[/a] prove that their muse is nowhere near exhaustion.

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Middlesbrough Cornerhouse

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Middlesbrough Cornerhouse

That the intro music is [a]Venus In Furs[/a] is, of course, no accident. [a]Clinic[/a] have been dogged by [a]Velvet Underground[/a] references since their incendiary first single ‘IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth’ clattered down from Liverpool like some 30-year-lost echo finally finding a place to rest. Comparisons, however, can be odious – and with the release of [a]Clinic[/a]’s long-awaited debut album, they have descended from all sides like iron bars.

[a]Clinic[/a] have been found guilty of appropriating the signifiers of ’70s New York art-rock – the lugubrious drone, the ill-tempered crackle, the cool pallor, even the junky-nudging monicker – with none of their substance. Their LP ‘Internal Wrangler’ seemed a hollow disappointment after the propulsive rattle of those early singles insisted [a]Clinic[/a]’s controls were set on transcendence rather than mere rehabilitation. Yet that disappointment was heightened in direct proportion to expectation, springing more from frustration over how [I]close[/I] they came to thrilling, teeth-gnashing brilliance, rather than from how far they missed the mark.

Tonight, [a]Clinic[/a] prove that their muse is nowhere near exhaustion. It’s telling that they don’t include anything from the album save the singles – the chugging, warped country of ‘The Return Of Evil Bill’, the railway swagger of ‘Internal Wrangler’, the disorienting stutter of ‘The Second Line’ and the frayed electricity of ‘2/4’ are beaten out into vivid relief – but instead return to early B-sides and forge ahead with three, as-yet-untitled new tracks. ‘Porno’ has a primal, Mary Chain wheeze and ‘Magic Boots’ provides a vertiginous tumble through one-and-a-half minutes of squealing falsettos and demented repetition. Live, [a]Clinic[/a] provide nearly everything the album lacks, filling the cracks in content with sheer, venomous noise.

For all the shaking, staggering brilliance of [a]Clinic[/a]’s most successful sawed-off riffs and walloping choruses, what goes on in their minds remains a complete mystery. Their sound weighs down on you, but their words fail to pierce the skin. The lyrics are jumbled up, nonsensical, as nagging and intangible as a name trapped on the tip of your tongue. It is as though they are trying to build Ade Blackburn‘s vocals into the structure of the songs themselves, which is notionally admirable and, when it works, wonderful – but it also claps down a wall between heart and head.

The three new songs come closest to reconciling [a]Clinic[/a]’s debt to another era with their more progressive impulses. Darker and more protracted than the other songs, they evoke the inarticulate, woolly hum of the morning after a heavy night. More than anything, they suggest that [a]Clinic[/a] are on their way to actually capturing and reinterpreting the beat desperation of their heroes rather than merely being their mirror. Let’s not give up on them just yet.