Speaking as a father, I can tell you that a lot of things can change in seven years – in fact, it’s entirely possible that the whole world will will look completely different from one side of that duration to the other. It’s for that reason Clinic reappearing after seven years with an album of new music – seemingly without warning (other than appearing with John Cale and backing him up a couple of years ago) – was unlikely at best, and tasting like nothing more than competent professionalism at worst. Simply said, after the band put out the horrid Free Reign album in 2012 and then just seemed to give up, it was easy to assume that Clinic was done. Now here they are, returned, with a new album (their eighth), Wheeltappers and Shunters.
There’s no question that longtime fans of the band will like Wheeltappers and Shunters because it arrives sounding like the last seven years didn’t happen from the moment “Laughing Cavalier” opens the album’s A-side until “New Equations at the Copacabana” comes along to close the B-. In between, singer Ade Blackburn, guitarist Jonathan Harley, bassist Brian Campbell and drummerCarl Turney have all the fun in the world rehashing old glories as they indulge some more Suede-esque Britpop sounds for “Complex,” amp up their swagger and sneer through cuts like “Laughing Cavalier,” “Rubber Bullets” and “D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E.,” descend back into older and more classic British Explosion-ish ranges in “Fairyboat of the Mind” and “Flying Fish” (which features the added benefit of a very sexy sensibility to push it along) and then elect to get spectacularly stoned for the ironically entitled “Rejoice,” to name just a few of the turns that the album takes in its runtime. Of course, the greatest flaw about each cut proves (not so surprisingly) to be the boozy slur that Blackburn puts into his vocal performance, but the crisp, spry and almost playful energy and sound of the instrumental performances throughout the album help to make the vocals significantly less noticeable.
By the end of the album – as “New Equations at the Copacabana” finds a way to make its weak vocals a good and unforgettable aspect of the music (Blackburn’s cracked stutter proves to be fascinating and hypnotic), listeners who weren’t familiar with Clinic before may find themselves hooked just deeply enough that they’re willing to indulge the album again and start the A-side of the record over. It’s funny but, after seven years, while it’s unlikely that even Clinic’s more devout fans will call Wheeltappers and Shunters a great or glorious return, there is enough of a spark about it to reignite some interest and pull some fans back into the fold. Every little bit helps – so who knows? If nothing else, Wheeltappers and Shunters proves that Clinic isn’t finished yet.
(Domino Recording Company)