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Wednesday, June 28, 2006 

But I love it when you blink your eyes

Feel good hits of the 28th of June, 2006:

Clinic - "Distortions"
Elvis Costello - "Party Girl"
My Morning Jacket - "Lay Low"
The Smiths - "The Joke Isn't Funny Anymore"
OutKast - "Unhappy"
New Order - "As It Is When It Was"
Crowded House - "Love This Life"
Snow Patrol - "Headlights On Dark Roads"
Tindersticks - "Talk To Me"
Clinic - "Porno"

'Distortions' - great song, probably my favourite from their debut. A sadly underrated band.

Agreed! "Porno" is actually one of their best as well, if you've not heard it.

No, haven't heard it - it's on the 3EPs compilation, isn't it?

I've got Internal Wrangler and Winchester Cathedral plus 'Walking With Thee' the single - have you got the album, and if so, is it worth getting? It goes without saying that I love the two I've got, particularly Internal Wrangler.

You should definitely get the Walking With Thee album; it's a little chillier than the other two, but still very much worth your while. "For The Wars" alone makes it worthwhile, but there is way too much good stuff on it to pass up.

Of course, I am the apparently rare person who thinks Clinic's albums decline slightly in quality the further back you go, so grain of salt. Internal Wrangler has some great songs but for me it never quite coheres as an album.

As for the 3EPs collection, I've never bought it (doesn't show up in shops round here, shockingly), but I've got 2-4 tracks on my Mac, and they are uniformly fantastic. If you like Internal Wrangler I'd definitely pick that up.

3EPS and Internal Wrangler are the only Clinic albums I own. I sold Walking With Thee, and decided to not even bother buying the most recent after a few listens. I guess that puts me in the majority opposite of Ian's opinion, which for the record, is pretty messed up. Clinic started sucking horribly come WWT and beyond. But yes. the 3EPs is pretty fantastic and in the same vein as Internal Wrangler. And both are far more cohesive as albums than their latter near-unlistenable follow-ups. :oP

See, this is what I don't get - Clinic's sound has never really changed, and the songwriting didn't alter drastically in the gap between the first and second albums. So how on earth did they go from good enough to own to "sucking horribly" while still sounding basically the same?

If anything they've gotten better at actually writing songs rather than thrashing about randomly, which I understand upsets some people. But if you find their last two "near-unlistenable", there's no way you should like their first. Unless, you know, you haven't actually listened to the last two.

IT is a mess, and you have horrible taste in music. WWT is sequenced a little oddly but is good, and WC is easily their best album to date. I'm a bit worried the next will take the criticisms of people like, well, Katie to heart and thus will suck, though.

GOODNESS.

the beauty of clinic was that they thrashed around, kept it random and interesting, and DIDN'T PUT YOU TO SLEEP. I'll give WWT a good repetitive single, an interesting sequencing on Equaliser, and a bunch of smoothed over hacks of old material polished to make it look pretty to whatever mainstream crowd they thought they'd be able to break into. WC was completely unlistenable past the two spins I gave it. BECAUSE IT WAS BORING AS ALL HELL.

Internal Wrangler is one of my favorite albums ever by anyone. So WE AIN'T GOING THERE MISTER IAN.

This is just yet another difference in the way you and I hear music. You like long drawn out boring shit, and katie likes to be entertained. So there. :oP

*pitches back into battle carefully dodging shrapnel*

I've always thought Internal Wrangler does cohere as an album.

BUT I completely disagree that Winchester Cathedral is dull, and can't see that their sound has evolved that much from the early days to the latest album.

So, a foot in both camps.

What has come out of this is that I need to get 3EPs and Walking With Thee...

BUT...

do you have an opinion on pulled pork bbq sandwiches....?

Don't worry, Ben - Katie and I are friends. No real anger on either side.

But... IW is not random and interesting. It is shoddily sequenced, and while I love "Hippy Death Suite" (and most of the album's songs) they're trying to hard to be Wire-circa-Pink Flag, basically. And even Wire could barely pull that one off. The best moment by far is, gasp, the longest and most drawn out track. Weird how that works. And like all the "long drawn out boring shit" on WWT, it's around four minutes.

So yeah, I'd accept the charge of liking boring stuff if this was Mountains' first album or something. But it's four minute rock songs. Someone needs an attention span...

WWT turns some of that old material-type stuff into actual, full fledged, interesting SONGS. And claims that they were treading the same ground puts me in mind of those who said the same thing about Elastica's The Menace - did we hear the same album? It's a massively different album from their debut tonally, emotionally, texturally, structurally... I don't believe in the whole "you haven't listened closely enough" argument, because it's bullshit, but if I did you'd be ripe for it here.

WC I think is a masterful summation and synthesis of the sound of their first two albums, but I understand the criticisms more there, even if it's my favourite Clinic album. It's refinement, not progress.

IT has some of my favourite Clinic songs - "Distortions", obviously, but also "The Second Line", "2nd Foot Stomp", "2/4" - all the obvious ones. It's good enough I'll probably keep it, which means to my ears it's better than 90% of the albums out there. But I pull it out less than the other two. And fine if it's one of your "favorite albums ever by anyone", but the same is true of the other two, so COULD WE MAYBE NOT GO THERE EITHER, AT THE RISK OF ESTABLISHING A DOUBLE STANDARD, HMM?

I actually love that their sound hasn't evolved, and would argue that since they don't really sound like anyone else, certainly nobody else making music right now, they don't need to start shifting things radically. I mean what, they should stop emphasizing melodica, clarinet and organ and sound like every other guitar band? (not accusing either of you of wanting that, just thinking to some other criticism I've read of these guys)

"Refinement not progress" - that's a very good way of putting it. That applies equally to Sonic Youth's Sonic Nurse I think, which I was initially lukewarm on because it didn't feel like a new step or chapter but a distillation of what had gone ten years before - but refinement is in itself a form of progress and I love Sonic Nurse now.

Back to Clinic, though - you're absolutely right about there being no real need or pressure for them to start altering what they do. You can tell a Clinic song a mile off - they've got their very own sound, it's unique, so why (as you say) should they feel the need to shake things up? In a way they're like (say) Weezer who found a formula and by and large stuck to it, but of course there's a lot more imagination in their formula...

I got out my little clinic collection and listened to it all over again this morning. Even Winchester Cathedral again (as it has been a couple years since I put that thing down). And in listening to that, I started out thinking, oh,
maybe this isn't so bad-- but once the 3rd track kicked off, alllllllll the reasons I can't stand that album started coming back to me.

No, their sound hasn't changed. I never said that it did. Or that it needed to. Bur really, who gives a fuck if their sound is distinctive if the band remakes the same album over and over again. Yes they *refined* that sound, but they refined it in a way that stripped the band of its soul (good lord that sounded emo). BUT IT'S TRUE.

There is a sense of playfulness and spontaneity on Internal Wrangler that just does not translate on any of the latter 2 albums AT ALL. I don't know if it's the slight misalignment of beats/rhythm/syncopation throughout that makes it feel free-er, or the loose hesitance in Ade Blackburn's wavering vocals, or just the general randomness and thrashing about, but the mistake they made with their follow ups involves some sort of combination of relying too heavily on their IW formula (they basically made the same album 3 times-- each time getting increasingly less interesting), *refining*/constricting their sound to the tight strict straight pulsating relentless repetitive beat that does-not-hold-back, and Blackburn took the clenched-teeth style to the extreme which pushed his vocals to the background far too much in later efforts as well.

I always chalked it up to them being *too* sure of themselves after IW got so much attention. Just a classic case of finding something that worked, and then in an attempt to recreate that success, fucking themselves over in the process. I pre-ordered WWT when it was coming out as I was SO FREAKING EXCITED about their new material. And after a couple listens and THEN after seeing a performance they did on Jay Leno where they played the title track, it all made sense. They made a toned down, better organized and accessible version of IW so as to woo the masses or whatever. They wanted bigger commercial success (who can blame them, though, really). With WC, I'd hoped they'd go back and put out a fresh new album again, but instead they just watered down WWT EVEN MORE. Which was unfuckingbelievable.

But that's why I'm sure a lot of Clinic fans can't fucking stand recent Clinic endeavors though. Internal Wrangler is such a warm... wonderfully human album, and the other two are so heavy, calculated and trite that they just leave you (er, me, at least) feeling cold.

Ben, did you have to bring Sonic Youth in? You know how I feel about them. I've listened to Rather Ripped a couple of times at the urging of friends, but the appeal of that band still eludes me powerfully.

Katie, I call bullshit on every time you've told me you can't write about music. That was great, even if I disagree. Really, really great. in fact, I'd be willing to say it's one of my favourite comments ever.

But boy, do I disagree. The "sense of playfulness and spontaneity" and "wonderfully human" qualities you hear in IT are not things that are intrinsically in the music - not because you're wrong (you're not), but because they can't be. If you've read the big long post about aesthetics looming just south of the this one, basically, those qualities are found in the aesthetic object that exists for you when you hear IT (possibly for Ben as well, or other listeners). The same goes for the "heavy, calculated and trite" qualities you hear in the latter two albums. And of course, the same also goes for the things I hear there. Which is why neither of us would be able to argue the other in or out of love, even if we were trying to. But, point is, as much as I love the way you described all three, those things are a product of your interaction with the music, not something lurking within it. Or else, and this is the really crucial point, we wouldn't be arguing because I'd be able to hear it too.

Which is why saying the refinements of, say, WC stripped the band of it's soul is kind of tricky. It is true - if you're one of the listeners who hears it that way (and just to avoid possible confusion, "hearing it that way" is is usually not a product of any sort of conscious desire to do so). And you're certainly not alone (I'd place money on you being in the majority, actually, not that that proves anything). But that doesn't make it even slightly more true for those of us who don't hear it that way, and it never could. Same is true the other way around, of course.

I used to own a Luna record once...

you must have had a cut of the same schwag I ended up ingesting last night, because that writing I did earlier was not good/coherent/etc at all. But you're sweet anyway for saying so :o)

And stop getting all philosophical on clinic here. what the crap. There is such a distinct difference between the style of IW compared to WWT and WC. Very much the same band, yes, same sound, yes. But the balance structure and layering of that sound is completely different. Not to mention completely different songwriting structure as well (yes by that I mean, LONGER).

One of the major beefs I had with the latest Spoon album actually was the song length. There's a fine line that they crossed that made the songs seem *too* long. It started on KTM, but GF was just... too much excess masturbation. Same dealio with clinic.

But yes, as we've discussed, you and I hear things differently, just as everyone hears things differently than others. I don't know if you were a later-clinic fan, or if your general listening technique just lends you to not hear the utter staggering brilliance contained in IW as compared to the other albums, but yeah.

YEAH. LUNCH TIME.

oh, and back to all that fun intrinsic stuff you say isn't there---

i think you're crazy.

when you hear *the fun*, you interpret it as *a mess*. When you hear *better songwriting* or whatever, I interpret that as it being too structured/monotonous/boring/unoriginal/etc. what I hear is there, and what you hear is also there. We just interpret in different ways.

Katie: Enjoyed reading your thoughts at greater length, but isn't there a contradiction in on the one hand drawing a sharp distinction between Internal Wrangler and the albums that have followed and on the other saying they've remade the same album three times?

Ian: Sorry for dragging Sonic Youth into it...

That's a contradiction that most who don't like the last two albums tend to fall into. Some of them (not necessarily present company) would make the argument that IT is better than the other two simply because it comes first, which in addition to being rockist as all hell doesn't make much sense.

And I was joking about Sonic Youth, although looking at my post now I sure do sound serious! They're an excellent example of what I'm talking about, though; I got EVOL from Mike Powell recently, partially because he'd written so evocatively about the album. But listening to it myself, even with his stuff right in front of me, when I'm straining to make out the stuff he mentions, it just isn't there. It actually means I listen to more Sonic Youth than most bands I don't like, just because my own reaction is such a mystery to me.

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About me

Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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