Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2001
W hen the Liverpool quartet Clinic opened for Radiohead last month, their raucous art-punk came through with startling clarity. I say "startling" not so much because Yokohama Arena is famous for its poor acoustics, but because the sound on the band's debut album, "Internal Wrangler," often wavers between a cacophonous mess and a throbbing blur.
These days, any kid with a Mac can make a studio-quality recording, so we can assume that Clinic prefers their harsher sound. But to what end? Maybe they want to cover up the fact that there are no original melodies on "Internal Wrangler." "Earth Angel" steals the chorus from "Catch a Falling Star." "Distortions" combines half-a-dozen Velvet Underground tunes with The Ronettes' "Be My Baby." Even when the source of a phrase isn't readily apparent, you know you've heard it before. (What is that song the pianica keeps playing on "T.K."?!) And with the instruments using ideas from every corner of the globe, from North Africa to Memphis to Jamaica, it's apparent that, to Clinic, writing and arranging are synonymous with scavenging.
But rather than sounding derivative, the combination of all these borrowed elements makes for surprisingly new-sounding music. Clinic's junkyard approach is whole and uncompromising. The musical patterns that make up the spooky, jazzlike "Second Line" serve lyrical gibberish that could very well have been made up on the spot. The band takes 33 minutes to get through 14 songs, none of which contains a recognizable introduction, bridge or coda. They use what they find with amazing efficiency. The resulting music's appeal is immediate and strong.
To say Clinic sounds like no other band is mainly to say that no other band sounds like Clinic: For most artists, old habits, even other people's old habits, die hard, but Clinic seems to have developed none at all. Like folk-pop savant Daniel Johnston, the group is innocent of form or style. Their jarring punk songs sound fresher than anything since the original Modern Lovers (whose picture, by the way, is included in the crude collage inside the CD booklet). One cut, "2/4," is named after the time signature because that's the whole point of it: one-two-one-two, thump-thump-thump-thump. They go deeper than the roots, straight down to the bedrock.