with The Cobbs
Sat April 20th, 2013
Minimum Age: 18+
Doors Open: 7:00PM
Show Time: 8:00PM
Event Ticket: $15
This is a general admission, standing event.
‘Bubblegum’, the mind-blowing sixth album from Clinic, is exactly 40 minutes long. Usually, long-players by this most extraordinary British band clock in at a clipped half-hour. That makes an extra 33% of murky psychedelic/punk excellence. But there’s a little more to it than that. This one comes from another planet, baby. Here’s why.
Clinic – singular, ambitious, revered by fellow musicians – forever sound like no-one else but themselves, because no-one else could even begin to sound like them. Since the tail end of the ’90s, they’ve beamed in other-worldly psychedelic-pop transmissions from their own parallel dimension (geographically, it’s in Liverpool, but…), each with a vibe and quality consistent with its predecessors, oblivious to passing trends.
Across five darkly phantasmagorical albums, they’ve channeled their ’60s-vintage influences through inspired juxtapositions, compulsive experimentation in mood-elevating FX, a punky-surrealist perspective, and plain brilliant songs. Every track has broken the rules implicit in everything foregoing. There has never been anything cosy about Clinic’s reliability: cue up their latest record, and you always know you’re in for a brain-battering.
‘Bubblegum’, however, is a different bag of butternut squash. On one listen, it feels instantly warmer, lusher, less uptight. It glows like dusk in a balmy Indian Summer.
The revelatory opener, ‘I’m Aware’, ushers in an exquisitely languorous sound based around lazily-strummed acoustic guitars, muted synths, distant wah-wah, soft lyrical murmurings and, on this one occasion, quietly lavish strings. Any other band would’ve hired in the orchestra for the whole album, but not this one. There are instead all manner of strange sonic delights subtly laced through. The prevailing mood: hazy, wistful, bittersweet, evocative of lengthening shadows, and the imminence of autumn.
“What we did this time,” reveals their leader, Ade Blackburn, “was say, Fuck it, let’s take a more laidback approach. I guess we’ve mellowed, while keeping some of the edge.”
For ‘Bubblegum’, Clinic busted out a completely new creative system. “In the past,” says Ade, “songs would normally start from rhythms, and we’d build it up from there, always keeping an eye on what the drums were doing – a percussion thing. What changed this time is, we approached it more in a songwriter way – what the chords were, and what the melodies were – and put everything on top of that.”
The ‘everything’ this time included some intriguing acoustic toys. “We’ve always collected creaky old instruments,” says Ade, “there’s always knackered dulcimers and mandolins and stuff like that lying about. Writing on those helps you still approach it like kids. If you get another instrument you can’t play, you have to work it out, and you end up coming up with something simple, little melodies.
“We also started messing around with different FX pedals,” he adds, “like wah-wah and phasing. We’ve probably been more purist in the past, sticking to that Velvets/Stooges sound. So, in a tongue-in-cheek way, it’s almost like we’re branching out from the ’60s and getting into the ’70s, with the wah-wah thing. We’ve moved it forward five years.”
So, ‘Bubblegum’ is painted from an even more variable sound-palette than usual, reminiscent of warm-‘n’-fuzzy groovers, from Shuggie Otis to ‘Harvest’-era Neil Young.
As you’re sucked into its seductive haze, there are strong echoes of old-school Clinic. ‘Lion Tamer’ and ‘Sapphire’ rattle along at the frenetic, pulsating pace of vintage classics like ‘The Return of Evil Bill’ and ‘Walking With Thee’ …and just check that beat on ‘Lion Tamer’! ‘Baby’, meanwhile, blends classic Roky and Velvets vibrations, but their more fragile ones – ‘Can’t Seem To Make You Mine’ meets ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’.
It’s not like Clinic haven’t ‘done mellow’ before. The last couple of records have included a decent sprinkling of chilled tunes, such as ‘Animal/Human’, ‘Paradise’ and ‘Jigsaw Man’ from ’06’s ‘Visitations’, and ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Corpus Christi’ and ‘Mary & Eddie’ from ’08’s ‘Do It!’ This time out, though, ‘Bubblegum’ throughout might prick up the ears of any number of today’s cool demographics: Glastonbury hipsters, Pitchfork online alt kids, the psychedelic/folk weirdo brigade, or, frankly, anyone who spends sunny days whacked out in their bedroom. For the band themselves, the album’s deceleration has been something of a relief.
“When we’ve done gigs in the past,” says Ade, “it’s always seemed like the songs are really short, and you’re racing to finish them before you’ve even really started. It just felt good to be doing something now, even just in the studio, where you’re thinking, We’re actually PLAYING it, and it’s not all breakneck speed. There’s a bit of room to breathe. Being slower, it makes the songs a bit longer, too, and it’s that extra 20 or 30 seconds that makes all the difference.”
Hence, then, ‘Bubblegum’’s increased playing time. Another factor in Clinic’s evolution was their working with a producer, for the first time since 2004’s ‘Winchester Cathedral’. The man in question, John Congleton, was suggested by Domino boss Laurence Bell, inspired by his warmth-bringing wizardry for, among others, Bill Callahan and Okkervil River. Since ‘Winchester…’, Blackburn & co have been self-sufficient in their Liverpool hideout, always creating tracks as sound experiments, i.e. as self-producers, anyway. But perhaps it was time to break from their isolationism, and let in some light from outside.
The result is an album still drenched in lysergic sap, but gentler and sexier, populated by intoxicating sirens named Elaine, Evelyn and Linda (“with Linda, you’ll get high as a kite”) and by the seductress in the spoken-word track, ‘The Radio Story’, where Clinic’s photographer Jason Evans narrates a blurry-edged tale of anonymous erotica. With the different musical strategy, Ade found himself writing differently: “In the past, I could get away with surreal and esoteric stuff; this time, they had to have more of a personal vibe, maybe twisted relationship stuff.” So: ‘Bubblegum’ speaks to you, one-to-one.
To broadcast their reinvention, the band will unleash a puppet-based promo video for ‘I’m Aware’, directed by Pete Fowler, and will be playing some select dates, doubtless in ER scrubs. And the plaudits will keep rolling in. Since they debuted on their own Aladdin’s Cave of Golf label with the legendary ‘IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth’ 45, the band have been embraced by numerous top-flight artists, touring with celebrity fans as diverse as Arcade Fire, The Flaming Lips and Radiohead, and appearing at Meltdown Festival at the behest of curator Scott Walker. They were also nominated for a Grammy for ’02’s ‘Walking With Thee’.
Clinic are still Ade Blackburn (voice, guitar, dulcimer, etc), Brian Campbell (bass, backing vocals, etc), Hartley (guitar, clarinet, etc), Carl Turney (drums, percussion, etc). They are still the business.