Clinic Offers a Quick Remedy for Reality

Frontman Ade Blackburn calls Wheeltapers and Shunters their most fun album yet

Clinic 2019

In some quarters, England’s Clinic falls into the category of living legends. While they’re not as well known on this side of the pond, the band’s mix of psychedelia, punk and sounds of a vintage variety have won them a devoted cult following, not to mention a Grammy nod for Best Alternative Album in 2004. Consequently, Wheeltapers and Shunters, the band’s first album in seven years, could be considered a significant event in many ways, especially as far as the fans’ anticipation is concerned.

That, of course is a matter of individual perception. However singer and multi-instrumentalist Adrain “Ade” Blackburn seems prone to agree that it is fairly special.

“I think it’s our most fun album yet,” he maintains. “It’s also the shortest LP we’ve made, at 28 minutes long. We approached it more like writing a sitcom. A nice entertaining half hour, rather than just a collection of songs.”

Clinic Wheel Tappers and Shunters, Domino 2019

There’s reason to bear that out. Intertwined with some decidedly Pink Floyd-like meditations are several songs — “Laughing Cavalier,” “D.I.S.I.P.L.E.,” and “Tiger” in particular — where the band seems to be having a laugh at their own expense. For all the cosmic cacophony, the group clearly seems eager to fly by the seat of their collective trousers, letting the music lead them to their otherworldly realms, rather than the other way around.

“Over time we’ve used different influences such as funk, tropicalia, folk and soul that weren’t there at the beginning,” Blackburn notes. “I think we’ve managed to do that, and keep a punk basis to the music. I’m pleased it hasn’t taken the typical trajectory of becoming slick and overproduced.”

Clearly, “typical” isn’t a word that enters into any description of Clinic’s MO. This is, after all, a band that wears surgical masks onstage, a tack which ties in with their decidedly offbeat sense of humor. Blackburn acknowledges that that’s the whole point, even its title a send-up of these old British novelty records from back in the day.

“Yes it’s a bit of fun,” he nods. “The LP has a nice sense of humour, which means a lot. I think what we’re saying is enjoy yourself, despite all the maniacs at large.”

The Wheel Tappers and Shunters Social Club LP

While some might believe that all the ambiance and atmospherics point to headier circumstance, Blackburn declines to take it all too seriously. “We don’t find it a challenge to get a raw live sound now,” he notes. “It was harder when we first started, as commercial studio engineers just weren’t as familiar with distorted keyboards, melodica and extreme reverb. Now that we record ourselves, it’s much easier!”

Likewise, he dismisses any need for overthinking their ambitions. Asked if he still feel as inspired as he did two decades past, he replies in the affirmative, but declines to make any more of it than it is.

“Yes, I still enjoy listening to new music, and that keeps me interested in making our music,” he insists. “It just feels natural to me. I don’t look at it in terms of keeping momentum going.”

Likewise, Blackburn maintains that neither he nor his bandmates find themselves bound by any expectations from others. Nor do they accept the notion that their early success set a standard they’re obliged to abide by today.

“I only really go on my own standards of how good I think the music should be,” he muses. “I don’t look back at those early years much. I’m still more interested in what’s going to happen next.”

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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