It’s been seven years since the innovative Liverpool four-piece Clinic last released an LP. After live dates this year confirmed a return to action, hopes for a new album have also finally been rewarded. The infectious and crazed ‘Wheeltappers and Shunters’ takes its name from an old 1970’s TV variety show, which was based in a mock-up working men’s club and hosted by Bernard Manning. Having never heard of the programme until this album appeared, it’s also an odd coincidence that the new music video from Noel Gallagher is based on the very same TV show. The band’s eighth album does indeed include themes including that of working men’s clubs, as well as travelling funfairs, UK holiday camps, as well as other aspects of British life that are given a seedy twist within the music and lyrics.
“It’s been a pisstake thing between us for quite a few years,” said frontman Ade Blackburn of the record. “Whenever we’d talk about a song sounding too ‘cabaret’ or too nice, we’d say, ‘That’s a bit Wheeltappers and Shunters’. It’s a satirical take on British culture – high and low. It fascinates me that people look back on the 1970s as the glory days. It’s emerged that there was a darker, more perverse side to that time. When you look back on it now it was quite clearly there in mainstream culture.”
With its swirling psychedelic circus sounds and surf vibes, ‘Laughing Cavalier’ is a fine opener and tone-setter for this strange and compelling collection of tracks from this ever-imaginative band. At just over 28 minutes long, the LP is quality over quantity. Pattering drum machines, snaking guitar lines, and smokey atmosphere combines well with a solid lysergic groove on the stunning ‘Complex’, which features the surprising and welcome addition of a xylophone solo. “We thought it felt right to make a fun, dancefloor album in these dark and conservative times,” says Blackburn.
In the creeping, staggering lead single ‘Rubber Bullets’ we get a melting pot of instrumentation, along with a skewed ‘Heartbreak Hotel’-like solo, before the brief, sparse vocal segue ‘Tiger’ and ‘Ferryboat Of The Mind’s mysterious euphoria and thick sturdy rhythm, where Ennio Morricone meets The Fall. ‘Mirage’ serves up dazed disco fizzing with an unsettling post-punk energy, while the frantic ‘D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E’ delivers pounding analogue Krautrock punk, and ‘Flying Fish’ contrasts with sounds resembling a kaleidoscopic daydream offset by shadowy, ominous flavours. ‘Be Yourself/Year of the Sadist’ floats on a cloud of off-kilter jazzy soundscaping, ending with an impacting dialogue sample of a town crier.
The incredible ‘Congratulations’ (certainly not a Cliff Richard cover) is one of the most immediate moments, knitting together many of the album’s various fabrics into a most satisfying patchwork of acidic melody, grooves and weirdness. Like a lot of other tracks here, ‘Rejoice!’ is brief at just over two minutes long, doing the job brilliantly with its restless morphing between time signatures and styles, while the LP closes with the inventive ‘New Equations at the Copacabana’. Bizarre vocal effects melt into mesmerising chords before kicking into another one of those humping trademark rhythms that Clinic get the best out of, as all sort of unidentifiable noises fly throughout.
Their gift for creating music that locks the listener in is a gift that keeps on giving. After a seven-year absence, the long wait for ‘Wheeltappers and Shunters’ has resulted in one of the group’s finest records. Brilliant to have them back.