n the release of their fourth full-length album, Clinic are in an unenviable position. After their acclaimed 2000 debut Internal Wrangler, Clinic waited until 2002 to follow-up with the equally well-received Walking With Thee, which found the Liverpudlian quartet expanding the parameters of their sound just enough to show some growth and keep the momentum rolling. From there, however, it’s all been downhill. Third album Winchester Cathedral took another two years to surface, but the album didn’t show much progression, and if anything, suffered from a distinct lack of memorable tunes and formulaic sounds. Given that Visitations again took two years to realize, and that the band have a bit of work to do to retain both their audience and critical cache, where would they take the next album? Forward, backward, or just more floating in place?
In truth, the answer is a combination of all three. By their very nature, Clinic are incapable of sounding much different than they do on their previous albums. Ade Blackburn’s voice is distinctive and immediately recognizable, but there’s only so much he can do with it. The band’s inspired mix of pulsing organ, quirky noises, and short sharp songwriting serves them well, but it simply isn’t capable of unleashing an epic. This is not meant as an insult, merely a statement of fact—they have a distinctive sound and they don’t run far from it, and that’s just fine with me and likely many of the rest of their fans.
Thankfully, their pounding, primitive voodoo cavepunk sound doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to be successful, and Visitations proves it. From the opening notes of “Family,” the chugging, fuzzy rhythms and slightly menacing voice sound familiar, the riffs sliding over the din to create Venusian garage rock of the highest order. “Animal Human” is slow and creepy, led by a spare arrangement, zinging autoharp, and booming chimes. The addition of a wah-wah guitar doesn’t necessarily make it sound any less like Clinic, but the few new wrinkles here are welcome. Lead single “Harvest” bounces around to a hip-hop-derived tom-tom beat and skittering guitar scrapings before a shining organ washes color into the mix. Whereas its predecessor suffered from songs that sounded like they were dashed off in the car on the way to the studio, Visitations boasts well-crafted, smartly arranged tracks throughout.
For all the small forward steps the band takes on Visitations, however, Clinic still sounds like the same old band (they could stand to lose that melodica), and that may be enough to keep some listeners away. Still, by peppering in just enough new tricks to keep things interesting and stepping up the songwriting this time out, Visitations succeeds where Winchester Cathedral failed.