With their ninth studio album, Clinic make a visit to the disco. This is not a sentence fans of the Liverpool band could ever have envisaged reading, but after a while it all makes sense, becoming a fitting development in the band’s fascinating musical evolution.
The seeds were sown in previous album Wheeltappers And Shunters, and further still in the work of side project Higher Authorities, where singer Ade Blackburn and Jonathan Hartley successfully explored dub-based material with Adrian Sherwood. Each record hinted at a more colourful, rhythm-based approach, and now, with the help of a Casio digital horn, a space drum and Claudius Mittendorfer, who mixed the album, Blackburn and his band take their rhythms to new and exciting extremes.
This is a much lighter album than anything Clinic have done to date, with a good deal of humour present – much brighter, for instance, than the sardonic observations of an album like 2006’s Visitations. With that said, The Lamplighter is still “clinging on to the edge of the world”, a reminder of the climate in which recording will have taken place.
Soon, production stardust is being sprinkled from above, channelling the spirit of Andrew Weatherall and in particular his Sabres of Paradise concern. Refractions (In The Rain) is brilliant – a bit dubby, a bit macabre, and funny with it too. Its lyrical hook, “through bygones and tri-gones, frozen in time”, is a cracker. The lumbering groove of Miracles works best at high volume, as does On The Other Side, with a rather wonderful, off-the-wall saxophone solo. It gives the effect of stumbling into a club you didn’t expect to end up in.
As always some of Clinic’s music provides an out of body musical experience. Dreams Can Come True does that here, with bursts of warmth in response to Blackburn’s slightly whimsical vocals. The title track Fantasy Island is unexpectedly funky, and a touch disturbing, while I Can’t Stand The Rain, a cover of the Ann Peebles classic popularised by Tina Turner, basks in major key warmth, Blackburn looking upwards towards the sun.
This being Clinic, the album is over in little to no time – but because there is no padding, it is better than most records double its length. Channelling late 1960s psychedelia has always been a feature of the band’s best music, but adding flavours of dub and disco adds extra colour and spice to the melting pot. Their new-found unpredictability suits them.
Fantasy Island is arguably the peak of their output to date, which is a strong statement to make about a band who are well into their third decade. “The future, it’s easy, the future is breezy!”, states Ade in Grand Finale. Just where it will lead Clinic next is anyone’s guess.