Having perfected a triangulation of ‘60s garage-rock scuzz, mangled Krautrock and dismantled Augustus Pablo dub so early on, Clinic left very little room for future manoeuvre, only relentless repetition. Whilst such dutiful recycling has always allowed the Liverpool foursome to deliver a consistent stream of sterling singles over the last decade, the law of diminishing returns has gradually become an affliction across five studio albums, leading to the belief that album number six – Bubblegum – is somewhat of an ‘adapt or die’ scenario. Admirably, Ade Blackburn, Brian Campbell, Jonathan Hartley and Carl Turney have stepped-up to the challenge to reinvent themselves as lushly-arcane sound sculptors instead of mere malign groove-riders.
So, Bubblegum puts far less emphasis on Velvets guitar chug, squealing vintage organs and clattering drums, in favour of pastoral acoustic instrumentation, psychedelic-funk wah-wah, balmy synths, serene string layers, junkshop percussion and gossamer harmonies. In effect, the maniacal malice has been skilfully traded in for soothing mystery and violence exchanged for unsanitised sophistication.
The opening “I’m Aware” was certainly a good preceding single choice, packing-together wistful Syd Barrett-like art-pop and lysergic bucolic warmth, to create perhaps the first Clinic song that can be described as touching. Other peaks follow in its wake. The smeary pedal-heavy guitar weaving lure of the title-track is hard to resist; the winsome “Freemason Waltz” shows both shades of Fairport Convention and Ennio Morricone; “Forever (Demis’ Blues)” plays imaginatively with Spoon-like rhythms and vocal percussion; “Another Way Of Giving” beautifully melds chiming dulcimers with rustically-orientated melodica; and the dreamy wordless electronic primitivism of “Un Astronauta En Cielo” could have sat well on Eno’s touchstone Another Green World. Perhaps to avoid accusations of having gone soft or too straight, there are a handful of noticeable mood-breakers. The high-octane fuzz of “Lion Tamer” and “Evelyn” are still very much in the otherwise shelved early-Clinic mould and the strange spoken-word tale of “The Radio Story” (featuring the deadpan tones of photographer Jason Evans) certainly sticks out as reminder of the group’s sense of warped mischief.
Overall, Bubblegum, is very much a triumph of restyling, that makes it perhaps the most necessary Clinic LP since 2000’s Internal Wrangler debut. Perhaps however, it’s also time that Clinic developed more as a songwriting vehicle, with singer Ade Blackburn making his vocal/lyrical presence more memorably penetrating. But as it has taken Clinic this long to find life beyond two-chords, we might have to wait have another ten or so years for such an evolutionary shift. In the interim though, Bubblegum has plenty of endearingly edible nuggets to chew upon.
Listen to “I’m Aware”: