For an entire decade, Clinic have been asserting themselves as one of those secrets about which you would rather not tell anybody, a group that never comes up in conversation, as if their work and miracles were nothing to do with us. Not out of embarrassment, not at all, but because it is better for it to be that way. It’s true that since “Internal Wrangler” was released, that debut that was lo-fi viscerality made into music, the band’s ability to surprise has declined drastically. That speedy potpourri that they introduced themselves with in 2000, chaotic in form, laid the groundwork for the future for Clinic along with “Walking with Thee”. Since then, and in spite of the handicap of basing their whole image on surgical masks that cover their faces and give them the look of butchers with scalpels—they were even ahead of the fashion of wearing them in the street before the psychosis about the H1N1 flu spread—the Liverpool band has achieved something admirable: they have consolidated their own sound, inspired by endless references ranging from Can and krautrock to the Velvet Underground and sixties garage, overlaid with the vocal reluctance of Ade Blackburn (probably the weakest link in the band, considering that the Thom Yorke model already broke through all of the possible barriers between the mainstream and the alternative some time ago).
“Bubblegum” doesn’t speak as an expert, nor does it seek to. It’s not a step forwards or backwards in the band’s career, but rather a stealthy lateral movement that explores 60’s psychedelics, as they already did with “Visitations”, but this time in a psych-folk key. For example, “Linda” prefers to take emphasis away from the melody to enter into more atmospheric territory. This more tranquil, moderate, and even accessible side that they have been developing over the course of their discography can be seen again in “I’m Aware”, where the choruses, that acoustic guitar that holds the reins, and the slight string accompaniments that sound in the distance invite us to listen to Stereolab again. The song that gives its title to the album could be pointed to as well, in which the band sounds more luminous than usual, temporarily setting aside the calculated witty bad vibe of their beginnings with an electric organ that stinks of nostalgia for vintage instrumentation. We don’t know whether the fact that they have once again had a producer, in this case John Congleton, has somehow influenced the result of Clinic’s new assault.
That peace that some sections of the album transmit, as was to be expected, doesn’t last long. “Lion Tamer” falls into vocal reverberation again, with dirty, incendiary guitars, into the rusty darkness of pieces called “The Return of Evil Bill” and “Walking with Thee,” the same thing that happens with the excellent “Evelyn” or the closing, “Orangutan.” Nevertheless, this is the greatest problem with it. They have stagnated in their nonconformity, and everything seems to indicate that they have exhausted their tricks, even though they are still putting out notable songs. If we add to this that the second half of the album doesn’t manage to stick in your memory —you might say that it sounds less Clinic than usual– and in which anybody would find themselves obligated to request a rise in decibels and a larger dose of sound dirt (a problem suffered by the folkie “Another Way of Giving”, the instrumental “Un Astronauta en Cielo” and “Freemason Waltz”), then “Bubblegum” leaves us with a bittersweet taste as a whole. At times, when you start to take things more seriously than usual, you end up screwing up.
Sergio del Amo