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Clinic: Internal Wrangler



Album: Internal Wrangler
Label: Domino

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Fans in high places can't hurt a new band, and Clinic has Radiohead to thank for raising its profile. On the other hand, Radiohead (and the rest of the world) has Clinic to thank for Internal Wrangler, a terrific head-scratcher of a debut. Endlessly compared to the work of The Velvet Underground and (no surprise here) Radiohead, Wrangler in some respects combines those two influences, taking its staid art-punk stance from Lou Reed and its fearless sense of experimental wonder from Yorke and company. But that doesn't paint a complete picture, as Clinic weaves so many of its sonic forebears into the patchwork that they become difficult to separate. The world has seen its share of four-piece rock bands from Liverpool and points beyond, playing three-minute riff-based songs, but the importance lies in the little things, and Wrangler works its magic with the smallest, finest tools. The opening instrumental, "Voodoo Wop," is made remarkable by its combination of buzzing insects and bongos; the next song, "The Return Of Evil Bill," starts with a plaintive melodica wail before rolling into one of the album's several garage romps. The most important piece of this jagged puzzle is the fragile, almost asexual voice of Ade Blackburn: Because much of what he sings is unintelligible, his voice becomes part of the songs' foundations, instead of lying atop them. The most potent example crops up in "The Second Line," whose mush-mouthed lyric (something approximating "diggy-diggy da mom anon") begs for a sing-along, yet makes no sense, like "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" for the art-rock set. On the Stereolab-meets-Stooges "2nd Foot Stomp," Blackburn's vocals rise above the din long enough to prove that his lyrics couldn't be deciphered even without the song's terrific drone. His words only become clear on a pair of stunning mid-album would-be ballads, "Earth Angel" and "Distortions." Small in scope but epic in emotion, they earn Clinic its Radiohead comparisons, as Blackburn sounds like Yorke at his most vulnerable. But where Radiohead sometimes strays into cold and clinical detachment, Clinic lays itself beautifully bare. That openness to different sounds, styles, and moods makes Internal Wrangler—and the band that created it—thoroughly affecting.