Rock fans have become such a jaded, seen-it-all kind of group that it's really a relief to hear a band like Great Britain's Clinic, which still seems to have faith in the ability of intense, inscrutable music to baffle and gratify their fans. Clinic's latest record is its most tightly focused and exciting release, and should be a shot in the arm for anyone who has despaired of ever again hearing a cool, artsy band that actually sounds like it cares about the music it makes. These Liverpool lads have honed the razor-sharpness of their spare, edgy rock sound, merging the paranoid, brainiac playfulness of forerunners such as Wire and Pere Ubu with the lofty musicality of pre-punk icons like Can, Neu, and Eno. Framed by droning, minimal keyboards, an untamed and rambling bass, sparse guitars, and a spooky, atonal melodeon, vocalist Ade Blackburn performs with theatrical urgency, surreptitiously forcing out clipped, fragmentary lyrics through clenched teeth. Blackburn sings with bated breath in a Peter Lorre sneer, almost as if each song comprises its own little film noir and he's just standing around waiting to get a bullet in the back. Clinic makes unapologetic musical references to any number of classic bands, from a percussive quote of the Who to a brief, synthesized "ha ... ha ... ha ..." straight out of Laurie Anderson's "O Superman." With its pronounced shift into krautrock-y terrain, Clinic currently begs comparison to the much-vaunted Stereolab, except that Stereolab has been coasting monotonously for years now, and Clinic is decidedly not a boring band. Walking with Thee is compact and compelling, a record that appeals to the kind of pop connoisseur who likes to be delighted, rather than stultified, by their rock music.
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