When playing the word association game, the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing a band’s name is generally specific to sound or style. Perhaps its merely the genre in question, or the feelings invoked on hearing their music. Sometimes its something personal. For Clinic, the word that immediately comes to this reviewers mind is “consistency.” The Liverpool quartet has been consistently releasing good music over the decade since their 2000 debut album, Internal Wrangler. As reliable as clockwork, Clinic has released a new album every two years.
Bubblegum is the latest album from Clinic that continues that trend. While there is a noticeable evolution from album to album, Clinic has always been one of those bands with a sound that is decidedly theirs. Whether raw or polished, hypnotic or ferocious, a Clinic song is always recognizable thanks to the oft-indecipherable lyrics and unique intonation of Ade Blackburn, as well as irresistible rhythms, a penchant for vintage instruments, and some degree of ominous tension.
Bubblegum opener Im Aware reveals a more noticeable shift in sound than in the past, acoustic guitars accompanied by a string section creating lush, soothing harmonies. Sure, Clinic has mellow songs on every album, but nothing this dulcet, nothing without any trace of the hauntingly eerie.
Clinic returns to familiar territory, as the sounds of the vintage Phillips Philicorda organ chime in on the title track, on which even the distorted guitar riffs seem almost calming. A wah-wah peddle adds an extra layer of sweetness to Baby, which is another surprisingly gentle, soothing ballad. On Lion Tamer, Clinics trademark raucous energy and sense of urgency returns, later resurfacing on the frenzied stomper Evelyn.
Linda and Milk and Honey stand out among all the warm, psychedelic pop as two of the more spellbinding ballads on Bubblegum. The ever-present power of the melodic makes a significant comeback on the gorgeously delicate Another Way of Giving. Blackburn ditches his signature cadence on the spoken word monologue The Radio Story, sounding like Jarvis Cocker at his most coolly detached. Album closer Orangutan brings together Clinics noisier, sinister side and the more recently explored acoustic, subdued depth.
Bubblegum is the warmest, most accessible Clinic album to date, and, at 40 minutes, it’s also their longest. As mellow as Bubblegum is, it is still sounds like another varied Clinic album: familiar but different enough to not be a retread. It would take a more drastic shift than the ones here to reinvent Clinic. But, as Bubblegum is their sixth consecutive solid album (with occasional moments of greatness), is it even necessary?