Clinic, a quartet from Liverpool, claims to be an experimental band, but their mash-up of punk, metal, folk-rock, psychedelia, and '50s R&B won't sound unfamiliar to anyone with a knowledge of 20th-century pop music. How much you like them will depend on your tolerance for arty poses, oblique lyrics, asymmetrical song structures, and your familiarity with the 13th Floor Elevators, John Cage, and Velvet Underground.
"Free Not Free" accents the smooth pop of a '60s Burt Bacharach ballad with incomprehensible lyrics and nasty, feedback-drenched guitar accents that set your teeth on edge. "Shopping Bag" is garage-band psychobilly with a jittery beat; "Mary and Eddie" an acoustic delta blues as sung by an Edwardian troubadour backed by foghorns and rippling free-form electric guitars; while "Emotions" is a triplet-happy, neo-classical doo-wop ballad accented by incomprehensible grinding guitar stabs. The album closes with "Coda," a strange, plodding noise fest with a cryptic spoken rant about the Bristol Charter, a document that exempted the city of Bristol from paying certain taxes.
The musicians of Clinic obviously have the chops to play anything they choose, but the arrangements are puzzling and self-conscious, as if they're intent on keeping listeners off balance and uncomfortable. You have to give the band credit for trying to come up with a new way to present genres that are often stale and formulaic, but in the end it's attention to the craft of songwriting that separates great bands from the also-rans. Clinic is certainly trippy, but they leave you scratching your head more often than tapping your foot. (Domino)
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