Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 46)
Psychedelic rock has the wrong reputation. Your most basic run down of psychedelic rock is all about peace, love and weed. The unwashed masses grooving under the influence in muddy fields, peace symbols, and placid “make love not war” protests. The music follows close behind, sitars and far-out guitars made to soundtrack blissed out mushroom trips. But anyone that knows anything about psychedelic drugs know that psychedelics are scary. For every good trip, there’s a bad trip. Visual hallucinations, aural hallucinations, loss of bodily functions, the whole nine yards. And psychedelic rock bands, the good ones at least, knew all about the freak out. Frank Zappa knew it, Blue Cheer knew it, and Clinic knew it. If any one thing defines Clinic’s debut masterpiece Internal Wrangler
, it’s indefinable fear. The kind of fear that comes with being unable to control your own reality. But, like even the worst acid trip, Internal Wrangler
is engrossingly evil. It begs you to figure it out, letting out just enough of it’s secrets to keep you coming back over and over again.
The spindly post-punk of Internal Wrangler
isn’t psychedelic rock in any traditional sense. Songs never once meander with long drawn out guitar solos or lazy riffing, moments of calm are rare and always tempered with wiry rivulets of tension, and there is no attempt at a message here, political or otherwise. Instead, Clinic seize the idea of the bad trip and run with it. Opener “Voodoo Wop” sends you sprinting through the dense underbrush of some distant rainforest, building in intensity and terror until a goddamn swarm of locusts
begin buzzing around your head. Then you burst out of the treeline and Clinic set you down on a beautiful serene beach as the song abruptly shifts into lounge jazz. It’s the first of many times on Internal Wrangler
that Clinic resolve to f*ck with your head and make you love it.
is a transmission from a universe where The Velvet Underground were the most popular band of the late 60s. One where there incalculable influence impacted immediately and a legion of bands expanding their sound sprang up in their wake. “The Return of Evil Bill” and “Internal Wrangler” connect the missing link between “I’m Waiting for the Man” and Sergio Leone with the former’s ominous high noon melodica and the latter’s literal gunfight bridge. Ade Blackburn sings like Satan in the form of a snake, his voice both malicious and entrancing as he does away with the english language entirely on “The Second Line”, instead twisting incoherent gibberish like “Diggy diggy de mo mero” into a brutally catchy chorus as the band sketches out a barely there pastiche of late night guitar and thrumming bass behind him. On the staggering “Distortions” an organ flatlines over a tinny drum machine as Ade takes the band’s Velvet Underground influence a step further by literally quoting The Velvet Underground
opener “Candy Says”. “I’d like to know completely, what others so discretely, talk about when they leave me,” asks Ade before reining himself in, “Not that I notice when they’re gone.” The second verse plumbs even murkier depths with Ade making some pained admissions, “I've pictured you in coffins/My baby in a coffin/But I'll love it when you blink your eyes.” But is he being brutally honest or simply deploying another manipulation? As frightening as the words may read, through Ade’s voice they sound as sweet as “I love you.” A beam of light breaks the clouds as Ade makes a final request. “Free of distortions, free of distortions.” But just as the song sounds like it’s ascending to heaven, it’s heartbeat starts to race, a squealing trumpet bursts from the ether, and the song flatlines again.
Since their inception, Clinic have been very mindful of the visual side to their music. They’ve been stepping on stage in face masks and scrubs since day one. This attention to detail is evident in their music as well. The songs on Internal Wrangler
all map out sonic blueprints of time and place convincingly, some with the aid of samples, some without. All out barnstormers like “C.Q.” and “Hippy Death Suite” could be bootlegs from a scuzzy basement club in London. “Earth Angel” opens with the sounds of waves lapping against a beach. Even if the lyrics refuse to cohere into a narrative, “Harpo the harp and Cheeko in the mirror/Gone and gone and gone away”, the persistent woosh of the waves and the steady thump of a bongo drum say more than words ever could. The magnificent closer “Goodnight Georgie” takes place in the ballroom of a long abandoned castle. When the song sweeps upwards for the chorus, “Come on my liege, just roll him over/Come on lip only makes him bolder”, the ballroom flickers to life for an instant, long dead couples slowly waltzing together.
Clinic’s Internal Wrangler
does everything a brilliant debut should do. It carves out a wide swath of sonic identity, makes keen nods towards past influences, and sounds unlike anything that came before it. Internal Wrangler
’s dense crush of flea market keyboards and adventurous stylistic approach to garage rock melded with a production quality that begins and ends with “Louie, Louie” creates a thrilling listen that doesn't come even close to outstaying its welcome. If it’s influence feels muted, that’s because Clinic do what they do so well here so often that it’s not even worth attempting to mimic.