In considering Clinic, the art-punk four-piece from Liverpool, England, one conclusion is certain: the band has generated the giddy interest and frenzied anticipation that bear the markings of hype. Next-big-thing hype. The kind of hype conferred on quartets from Liverpool who tour with Radiohead.
But Clinic hasn’t quite broken through yet — not with the unqualified fervor that characterizes Radiohead’s success, at least. And with its new long-player, Walking With Thee, that breakthrough may be somewhat less than momentous.
It’s not that Walking falters on a creative level; in many ways, it improves on the band’s full-length debut, last year’s Internal Wrangler. With less clutter and far less clatter, Walking explores a different, darker tonal register than its predecessor.
No less urgent than Internal Wrangler, Clinic’s sophomore effort produces a more cohesive and coherent artistic statement. Resisting the reference-charged eclecticism of its previous output (which also includes the recent domestic collection Three EPs), Walking seamlessly unifies Clinic’s disparate influences — surf, garage, dub electronica, etc. — creating a sound both spare and spacious.
“We felt that with Internal Wrangler and the singles compilation album, we’d covered the chaotic, distorted side of things,” Clinic frontman Ade Blackburn said in a recent interview.
Unfortunately, chaos and distortion seem to be two of Clinic’s main drawing cards. And in last week’s Chicago appearance, at least, the group did not disappoint. Drawing on material from all three releases, Clinic played an efficient, energetic, if conspicuously short, set of originals.
Wrapped in their trademark surgical garb (including masks), the members of Clinic revealed a well-rehearsed command befitting a band poised for a breakthrough. The sold-out Abbey Pub, a two-tiered West Side venue, remarkably spacious for a club, only intensified that impression.
Sticking to the fuzzy, organ-driven essentials, the band only rarely deviated from the weird, manic turmoil typified by “Pet Eunoch,” “2/4” and “Monkey on Your Back.” Slowing it down a bit, the set profited from such beat-heavy digressions as “Porno,” from the Three EPs compilation and last year’s irresistible “Second Line,” a song picked up by Levi Strauss to peddle jeans in the U.K.
Blackburn is the attraction, opening several numbers with melodica, adding a timely blast of harmonica, trading off guitar and organ parts, and dominating every song with his jittery squall of a singing voice. Frantic, never fey, Blackburn’s high-pitched gasps are the most startling component of the band’s creepy dementia. They also tend to be the most tedious, further rendering Clinic’s bright prospects uncertain.
Stephen Andrew Miles