Clinic - Biography
Clinic's sound, as well as their persona, is perfectly encapsulated by their constant compulsion to wear surgical masks and scrubs on stage and in photographs. From their inception over ten years ago to the present, the surgical masks have been the cornerstone of their identity. Lately, they have appeared in photos wearing plain street clothing, but the masks are still there, and they don't seem to be going anywhere. Sure, the gimmick is getting a bit tiresome, but that's all a part of the joke. Much like their fashion sense, the band's sound has remained a constant, as all their albums are equal parts chugging, hypnotic rhythms and dreamy, psychedelic slow numbers. And the band, like those masks, is equal parts mysterious and knowingly ridiculous.
Ade Blackburn and Jonathan Hartley first played in a band together called Pure Morning. That band's demise led to the formation of Clinic in the spring of 1997. Hartley and Blackburn would both play guitar and keyboards, and Blackburn would lend his unique and reedy vocals to the mix. They acquired Brian Campbell to play bass guitar and Carl Turney to play drums. The new group distinguished their sound by purchasing old equipment from flea markets and rummage sales. They made things happen for themselves very quickly, issuing a single called “IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth” on their own label, Aladdin's Cave of Golf, a mere six months after their beginning. The single, a raving punk song with a heavy organ track that would become a staple of the band's sound, was ranked in the ninth spot on John Peel's Festive 50 singles roundup that year. It also ranked in the top ten in the year end lists of magazines Melody Maker and NME. The group released two more singles, “Monkey On Your Back” and “Cement Mixer,” on Aladdin's Cave of Golf before singing with Domino Records in 1999.
The band's first proper album, Internal Wrangler, was released in the UK in 2000 on Domino. Expectations were high after those first singles, and the debut served as solid assurance that Clinic were capable of stretching their sound over an entire LP. Three of the songs became singles: “The Return of Evil Bill,” “Distortions,” and “The Second Line.” The album contained a couple of surprises, as no one really expected Clinic to sound as touching and delicate as they do on the songs “Distortions” and “Goodnight Georgie.” Interest in the band picked up immensely, with Radiohead's Thom Yorke singing their praises and Levi's Jeans using “The Second Line” in one of their UK television commercials.
With the increased exposure and positive press, the band became busier. They played the festivals All Tomorrow's Parties and Scott Walker's Meltdown and toured with Radiohead. Meanwhile, Internal Wrangler finally had its release in the US in 2001. The band was back in the studio by then, and were in the process of slightly modifying their sound. Walking With Thee (2002 Domino) proved a worthy follow-up to Internal Wrangler as it showed the band expanding to include more atmosphere and detail in their music. There was nothing as fast or as fun here as “2/4,” and songs that would have had a more chugging, metronomic feel on their debut were slowed down and made to seem more like pieces of art than quick and catchy toss-offs. This enriched the album in some places and weighed it down in others. Critics were ultimately split on whether this release was a step forward for the band or a standstill.
Things were going quite well for Clinic in 2002. Their old singles were released on a compilation called 3 EPs (Domino) and they played the single “Walking With Thee” on David Letterman. Best of all, their album of the same name was nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, an award they lost to Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head. The band went on a full tour of the US in this year as well, capitalizing on all the success and attention that their second album had gotten them.
They went back to the US yet again to tour right before releasing their third album, 2004's Winchester Cathedral (Domino). Most critics agreed that the album was the sound of a band that had completely stalled out. Their energy is undeniable on the song “WDYYB,” but for the most part, it is a collection of tracks that ring of repetition, and the band seem either a little bored of themselves or extremely comfortable being themselves. They followed this release with another tour.
In 2006, Clinic reunited with Gareth Jones, the man who mixed Internal Wrangler, for the recording of Visitations (Domino). Released late 2006 in the UK and early 2007 in the US, Visitations was seen by most critics as a return to form. The band didn't break new ground or shake things up within their own framework, but the listener can tell that they are having fun here, and for that reason, it is a fun listen. Funf, a collection of the group's b-sides and rarities, was also released in 2007.
Refusing to slow down their creative output, the band released their new single, “Free Not Free,” as a free download from their website in 2008. Their fifth album which contained that single was released in spring of the same year. Do It! (2008 Domino) received about the same level of criticism as Visitations, and the band was more or less praised for hinting at new ideas while seeming quite comfortable in their own familiar skin. At this point, it was no longer expected that Clinic would turn rock 'n' roll on its head, but that they would keep playing their signature sound and get it right. And here, they did it once again.
The future of Clinic seems to be in keeping with their commendable ability to release albums within a year or two of each other, as a sixth release is scheduled for September of 2009. As of now, there is little speculation about what that album will sound like, or what the members of the band will be wearing in the preceding promotional photographs.