Liverpool imports Clinic return after a seven-year absence to release to their eighth studio album, Wheeltappers and Shunters. The album’s title comes from an inside joke between the band members, referencing the ’70s British variety show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club. It’s the term they use whenever they think a song sounds “too cabaret or too nice.”
The album’s 12 tracks light up and shine bright like firecrackers, before quickly fading into each other. Only the closer clocks in longer than three minutes. This eclectic offering runs the stylistic gamut with a unique mix of sonic flourishes, instrumentation and spacey lo-fi weirdness. The post-punk and pop experimentalists intended the album to be a satirical take on the the era in which they grew up. Clinic’s goal was to fit as much energy, detail and surprise in the compact 28-minute album—and to that degree the band succeeds mightily.
The album opens with the swinging Bowie-meets-Talking-Heads jam “Laughing Cavalier.” The song is filled with synths, harps and horns, building to the sung laughter of the chorus with dynamic energy and posh bombast. “Complex” takes a more modern electro-pop turn with a layered saxophone over electric guitar that paints a vibrant backdrop of a smokey club lounge accentuated by reverb-laden whispered vocals.
“Rubber Bullets” is a half-time dirge filled with synth upon fuzzy synth, as vocalist Adrian Blackburn sings, “The trees whisper to me/ You see what else can be.” He leads into the trippy and dramatic interlude of “Tiger.” The pace slows mightily for “Ferryboat of the Mind,” a floating and swinging jam featuring a Roy-Orbison-esque retro swing. Flourishes of horns and harmonicas filling a vast landscape.
“Mirage” incorporates retro space-age synth into a more modern dance loop. The sensual track features a layered whispered vocal that adds a dark, sensual feeling. The upbeat weirdness of “D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E.” serves as a psuedo-interlude leading into the bouncy slow jam of “Fly Fishing.” Clinic expertly adds many layers, bells and whistles without the ever feeling too busy or overstuffed.
The spacey drama of “Be Yourself/Year of the Sadist” features slow and brooding synth over the ambiance of crowded room conversation. It then slows into a mournful and somber ballad with atmospheric guitar flourishes. The album takes a turn for the mid-tempo on “Congratulations,” a rhythmic jam that at times feels like a fusion of The Roots and U2. This suave and cool bop makes for one of the album’s most interesting and infectious moments.
“Rejoice!” features the band at its full tilt of space odyssey, bringing forth a wall of fuzzy synths, guitars, percussion and vocal reverb.
The album closes with “New Equations (at the Copacabana),” a relatively long three-minute track that sums up the band’s array of tempos and moods. It starts as an understated slow synth, which builds into to a full-bodied soundscape of synths, beats and guitars.
For a time-tested band looking to refresh and revitalize its sound, Clinic created an album that’s equal parts varied, strange and urgent.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.