Far from restraint, and very close to home.
“On behalf of the Committee, I should like to tell you we made a mistake in offering the raffle prize of a diving suit. It is in fact, a divan suite.” The ‘analog’ humor and words of popular ’70s British television show, “The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club,” play through the fuzz of an old television set. Clinic’s latest record is the very allusion of this. Wheeltappers and Shunters immediately builds itself upon the premise of this vintage era. The music becomes everything from the clothes and comedy of the show after which the record is named, to the colors, the imagery, and the sounds of the ’70s, although successfully reborn in the context of today’s alternative music scene.
“Laughing Cavalier” is snappy and drunken, free-reign and without care. Clinic have never made music to please listeners, but this time it feels like they really believe they can do so without reaping the consequences. “ha ha ha, ho ho ho, he he he, do as you please”. And so they do.
“Complex” runs along a central riff that almost invokes the music of The XX, and “Rubber Bullets” does much of the same. These tracks even have elements of New Romantic in them, something of Petit Cheval maybe, or even the early sound of Tears For Fears. It is certainly a fusion of styles, but more than that, it is very much a British sound. Clinic seems to be running its hometown glory high and wide on this record, taking us into their past, to the sounds they grew up with, and then into the future. It’s a curious blend of slick techno rhythms, old-style melodies and mismatched instrumentation, and the result is invigorating.
“Ferryboat Of The Mind” opens with some misty, psychedelic guitar licks, only to drop into another drunken mesh of instruments and influences. Vocalist Ade Blackburn comes through once again with a sultry delivery of his words, filled with echoes and whispers. There is so much happening in the space of only two minutes and nine seconds, and it definitely speaks to the compositional prowess of the band. On the other hand, it is very easy to get left behind. The songs are in need of some space, some time to develop. It is always a great shame and frustration when a song with such potential is cut short, and unfortunately, that is the case for some of the tracks off Wheeltappers and Shunters.
“Mirage” finds the space that other tracks were asking for, though surprisingly, it is no longer than its preceding ones. The song has an infectious groove with littered falsetto vocals, almost as if it was a dance track. The rhythm takes over towards the end and the drums and bass break down into a steady, infectious beat. Clinic brings another dimension of versatility to their album with this standout track and proves that they can be deliberately and successfully concise. Just maybe not as consistently as they might have hoped.
“Be Yourself/Year Of The Sadist” is one of the slower songs off the album. A delicate progression of piano chords builds with synthesizers and cymbals, in an unusually stark and vulnerable way for the band. The track ends with a 30-second monologue from what sounds like a town crier preaching to his village. It’s hard to hear what he’s saying, but the important thing is the scene it sets. It is yet another proclamation of the band’s British identity, both bold and sincere.
As the album moves on it really does explore the very limits of Clinic’s capabilities. One minute the listener is on a psychedelic dance floor, moving to the percussive rhythms of “Congratulations,” next they’re on the set of Peaky Blinders, surrounded by ‘big band’, macho-madness. The closing track, “New Equations (At The Copacabana)” is maybe an indication of what’s next for Clinic. It’s bizarrely experimental, with a blatant break in its middle, moving from slow synths to a well-developed psych-rock rave. It ends just as quickly as it began, and if the album has one downfall, it is this. Almost all of the tracks are begging for more, and with so much to give, it feels like a wasted opportunity.
Wheeltappers and Shunters is history as Clinic know it. It is their memory of Britain, the places they grew up in, the things they saw and the things they heard, all so vividly recollected in the music, though still in keeping with their progressive ways. This is a confidently stylized statement by the band, and possibly their best record to date.