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Wednesday, March 6, 2002

HIGH NOTES

Clinic: 'Walking With Thee'


Despite the surgical masks and scrubs that the members don for publicity photos, the Liverpool art-punk quartet Clinic is fairly gimmick-free. Their up-to-the-minute DIY aesthetic -- built around melodicas rather than guitars, drum kits rather than drum machines -- places familiar musical ideas in a context that sounds new. More jittery and bracing than their first album, the already classic "Internal Wrangler," their new one, "Walking With Thee," confronts sophomore expectations with more self-consciousness but no loss of immediacy.

News photo

Ade Blackburn's habit of singing through his teeth and the spare instrumentation combine to give the record an atmosphere of sinister tension. Though not as eclectic a collection as the first album, the songs are better focused, often catching a melody-based groove and riding it to the end without interruption.

Clinic is not afraid of parading its influences (as with the first album, the CD booklet contains a collage of '50s and '60s pop stars), but the repetitive melodies seem less derivative this time. The title track, with its distorted organ, recalls the drunken teenage spirit of Them but minus the jumping R&B pretensions, and the waltzing, ethereal "For the Wars" sounds like the missing link between Donovan and XTC.

Though it's not difficult to imagine people dancing to this music, it's also easy to believe it was created sitting down. Including the two bonus tracks on the Japan edition, there are only three obvious rockers. The insinuating, even-handed consistency of the tempos may indicate that Clinic was thinking in terms of an integrated album this time, an interesting course for a group that has thus far identified with singles' artists. Then again, that other, more famous group from Liverpool made an extremely successful transition from singles to long-players.

"Walking With Thee" isn't a concept album, but it holds together exceedingly well.



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