Clinic are arguably one of the most underrated indie bands of the last decade. Releasing five albums in the space of nine years (a rate that could only be rivalled by another Liverpudlian collective, The Coral), they’ve had long-standing critical acclaim and have picked up many admirers including John Peel, The Flaming Lips and Radiohead. Their quirky and eclectic brand of pop is both something steeped in nostalgia and vintage yet also incredibly fresh-sounding and unlike anyone else.
The group’s sixth album, Bubblegum, is the sound of a band constantly reminding everyone of why they’re a force to be reckoned with as they continue to experiment with their own style. It’s also not a straight-up pop record with squeaky clean production vocals and radio-friendly melodies – far from it. This certainly feels like one of the more psychedelic sounding records Clinic have put out. This can only be a good thing.
It all opens with the rather fantastic I’m Awake, the lead single. Its vibe is relaxed and warm, with harmonious backing vocals and guitars with the flange settings turned up all the way to eleven. The latter pops up several times throughout Bubblegum, including on ’60s sounding Baby, which is driven by an organ whirring away in the background behind the rest of the instrumentation. This isn’t the only trick that finds them showing off though; there is an immense amount of variety to be found.
The band get all jaunty and rumbling in the rather dreamy Forever (Denis’ Blues), which is held together by a well-executed guitar melody, and Freemason Waltz showcases their jazzy side with aplomb. More exotic sounding percussion enters the fray on the brash Lion Tamer and the frenetic Evelyn, and they also have a habit of making orchestral sounding soundscapes sound slightly sinister and off-beat in Milk & Honey. In fact, if you combine elements of jazz, blues and psychedelia you’ll have a rough idea of the main musical styles that dominate the record.
All the trademarks of Clinic’s past work is still there in abundance: the muffled vocals that sound like they’re being sung through gritted teeth, the crunching guitar sounds and the overall brevity of the record (it’s only about 40 minutes long) is nothing new to loyal listeners. The addition of new layers, textures and dynamics is incredibly beneficial as it creates several new paths to go down. For a band on their sixth album to continue this kind of track record is impressive.
Bubblegum is unlikely to see Clinic rocket to mainstream notoriety all of a sudden, but they’ll continue to be one of indie’s best known secrets. Bubblegum is a wonderfully direct, adventurous and well-constructed album that should continue to cement their cult status amongst fans.