Their fifth studio album is a summer album, a warped Technicolor celebration - pop music and severe cut-ups going from melody to acid psychosis to acoustic, usually in the same song. "Do It!" is a skewed pop amalgam of Motown, Exuma, deep lounge, and The Balloon Farm, amongst many. Songs about living for the day, love, escaping witchhunts, and more. Mixed by Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings Of Leon, Archie Bronson Outfit).
Review by Heather Phares
Clinic chug along like a coal-burning engine churning out thick black smoke on Do It!, working further into their cryptically dour art-punk/psych/soul/folk niche. Granted, that's a pretty specific niche, but as on their previous album, Visitations, it feels more like a groove than a rut. More than most bands, Clinic write songs in styles, and Do It! features most of their quintessential types: the excellent "Corpus Christi" is a menacing, whispery slow-burner like Walking with Thee's "Come into Our Room" before it, with a singsong lilt that makes it all the creepier; "Emotions" is one of Clinic's soulful ballads, this time boasting a thick fuzz bassline that runs through the song like a scratch; and "Shopping Bag" is this album's version of the band's noise-punk outbursts, now with a shrieking saxophone solo. While Do It! doesn't abandon Clinic's well-defined sound and approach, it does underscore how they innovate within their self-imposed limitations, even if they don't make radical changes. Almost suffocating distortion is one of Do It!'s main motifs, along with songs that swing from mood to mood rapidly. "Memories" uses both, shifting from heavy, ugly, deeply acidic psych-garage riffs to melancholy organs and autoharps as Ade Blackburn intones "Memories are all you own" (though it sounds more like he's singing "Memories are all you're on," comparing thoughts to drugs a la the Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night"). "Free Not Free" is nearly as trippy, jumping between brash riffs and mellow flutes while setting lyrics like "when the hoax is in the mirror" to one of the album's prettiest melodies. All of this is to say that despite Do It!'s direct name, Clinic are as elliptical as ever. They're rarely better than when they're telling someone off, even if they do it so cryptically that the feeling is the only thing that translates. "High Coin" sounds like the perfect soundtrack to skewering a voodoo doll, its sinister organ drones giving words such as "You stitch who you always wanted/Now your thoughts begin to fray" an extra malice. Visitations' elaborately dark atmosphere gets more focus on Do It!, with "Tomorrow"'s creaky, cranky acoustics and "Mary and Eddie"'s electronically enhanced steamboat shanty providing some of the spookiest, and best, moments. It all culminates on "Coda," where Blackburn explains that the album is a celebration of "the 600th anniversary of the Bristol Charter" and urges listeners to "let go of the rail" (probably not a good idea) as several chapels' worth of church bells ring out. Do It! finds Clinic getting curiouser and curiouser, but that's the direction that suits them best.
More than almost any group out there, Clinic make you question how integral change is to a band's vitality. If you don't own any of their music, buying all their albums and listening to each and every one of their songs in alphabetical order (an undertaking that'd take less than four hours, B-sides included) wouldn't tell you much less about their career's arc than a chronological study would. The formula they hinted at on 1997 debut single "IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth" and got down to a science on 2000's Internal Wrangler has expanded only slightly, and while there've been some noticeable shifts in production style (especially on 2002's crisp and glossy Walking With Thee), there's not much that sonically separates a decade-old Clinic song from what they're up to today.
But maybe there's just not enough room for any other ideas: Clinic's aesthetic has already incorporated snatches of punk, doo-wop, garage psych, Krautrock, hard bop, mid '70s Miami disco, the film scores of Ennio Morricone, Augustus Pablo-informed dub (complete with melodica), Phil Spector girl-group pop, a few decades' worth of rockabilly, and antediluvian European folk music. It's all contained in an intricate frameworkt hat risks falling apart entirely if it's tweaked too much, and if that means that the same rhythms and melodies and moods keep cropping up in familiar ways, well, at least that sound hasn't gotten any worse. And while it's pretty easy to predict what you'll hear on their new album Do It!, especially if their last couple albums (the water-treading but enjoyable Winchester Cathedral and the slightly weirder, slightly better Visitations) are any indication, it's not the kind of predictability that results in disappointment.
Despite the fact that there's still some old reliable structures underpinning Do It!-- the aforementioned parade of references wrapped around their playbook of big cabaret stomps, swing rhythms, shoegaze drones, and waltz-time R&B-- this new album might be Clinic's most adventurous since Internal Wrangler. Clinic songs are usually recognizable as such within less than 10 seconds, with or without the buzzing wail of lead singer Ade Blackburn, and that's still the case. Usually the giveaway relies on a combination of Carl Turney's organically metronomic drumming-- heavy clomping gallops or delicate cymbal rides, depending on the mood-- and Hartley's guitar, which sounds like nearly nobody else in rock, whether he's coaxing slow strums, sharp twangs or fuzzed-out violence out of his instrument. But they often find themselves in uncharacteristic contexts; there's a couple of surprising moments of acoustic demi-blues, like the freight train rattle of "Tomorrow" (think Led Zeppelin's "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" with hints of Internal Wrangler track "T.K.") and the 3/4 swoon of "Mary& Eddie", which eventually explodes into a foghorn-accompanied burst of trapeze-act acid rock. And there are other curveballs: Opener "Memories" makes like it's going to be one of their burlesque-rhythm boogie numbers (i.e. "2nd Foot Stomp" and "Vertical Takeoff in Egypt"), but dips into a smart little bit of summery Beach Boys organ for the chorus, while "Free Not Free" bookends and interrupts an otherwise-tranquil bit of slow-dance reverie with a brief, snarling riff that sounds like some unhinged class-of-66 garage band scoring a bullfight.
Blackburn, still murmuring half-intelligible lyrics with the same spooky whine, has aced a perplexing syntax that gives these songs a labyrinthine, off-putting sense of psychological unease: "Knowing the chapters here that you close/ Fill in the gaps as half your mind is gone" ("Emotions"); "See yourself outside your skin here/ See yourself outside you for miles" ("Free Not Free"); "You stitch who you always wanted/ Now your thoughts begin to fray" ("High Coin"). And even when they stick to their old blueprint-- "The Witch (Made to Measure)", "Emotions", and "Winged Wheel" sound a bit like 10 other songs they've already done, except better-- Clinic play with a renewed sense of the same eerie raucousness that drew people to them in the first place; this would be an easy second-album recommendation for a new fan after they've initially discovered and absorbed Internal Wrangler. Clinic could still stand to stretch their legs just a bit more-- it's still inexplicable for a band this savvy about groove-minded freakouts that they've never recorded a song longer than four and a half minutes-- but any band that's staved off stagnancy while still sounding more or less like they did a decade in the past shouldn't worry too much about messing with a good thing.
-Nate Patrin, April 07, 2008