May 13, 2019

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Album Review: Clinic – Wheeltappers And Shunters


All hail the unheralded heroes.

Ever since The Velvet Underground, who have now taken their rightful place as one of the most influential bands of all time, there has always been those acts that operate in the shadows or the underground but have no end of plaudits from those in the know.

Love, Neu and the Buzzcocks can all lay claim to shaping British music in the sixties and seventies. The recent rebirth of Gang Of Four has led to a re-evaluation of their back catalogue. Devo are not a well-recognised name but can claim huge influence.

On this side of the year 2000, one of the early movements was to be found on Merseyside, with The Coral, The Zutons and The Dead 60s spearheading the charge for off-kilter, guitar driven, spiky scally rock. It’s a distinctive sound that is identifiable as being unique and self-contained enough to come from that corner of the North West, and to ignore Clinic as pioneers, or at least flame-bearers of that movement is to do them a huge dis-service. That they’ve been operating for 21 years from behind the curtains is a crying shame.

On this new album, their first after a sustained period of productivity (one album every two years without fail since 2000), we are once again welcomed into their weird and wonderful world. Few tracks exceed three minutes in length and manage to be both individual bursts of life that hang together to form a structured and coherent piece of work. It could easily be both concept album or Best Of collection.

 

The broad theme is of old-fashioned, family participating entertainment, references to circuses and fairs abound. Band conductor Ade Blackburn states that in serious times it’s nice to have some inoffensive fare to feast on as refuge. But like those once-halcyon days, there is a dark heart lurking beneath the surface. An air of looming menace pervades, as it always has done.

Incidentally, it’s been a good week for Wheeltappers and Shunters. For those fortunate enough not to remember it, the album is named after a long forgotten Granada TV production from the 1970s, where light entertainment favourites would perform in a fictional club environment. Think of a slightly less fictionalised version of Phoenix Nights. In a strange coincidence, the video for Noel Gallagher’s latest single centres around the show. Classic Gallagher cribbing? We’ll probably never know.

Once again, they are brimming with ideas. Laughing Cavalier is hurdy-gurdy lightweight psychedelia with Blackburn’s unique blend of earnest and grappling vocals leading us into ‘the fun of the fair’, grabbing the listener by the hand like the madcap ringmaster he was always meant to be. Complex echoes early Gorillaz, harmonica and drum machine working in spooky synchronicity, with background voices, either whispers or shouts, persisting in the lower levels of the mix. Flying Fish is more like the intense Clinic of old, the whimsy temporarily stripped  away, while Congratulations is a Hammond organ kaleidoscope of a song. Rejoice! is glam at its most insistent. The whole album has a deftness that Clinic have undoubtedly always had but rarely utilised, perhaps due to the long sabbatical.

This album is unlikely to win over any new fans, but then that’s extremely unlikely to be Clinic’s priority, having never been so. We must treasure bands of their ilk; those whose charms only appeal to a select few but which are harnessed and shaped to appeal to many more.

(Richard Bowes)

By Live4ever - Posted on 09 May 2019 at 4:04pm 


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