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 Scott Creney

Clinic – Free Reign (Domino)

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By Scott Creney

If the internet is suburbia[1] and Collapse Board is a small undervalued subdivision along its outskirts[2], the most popular band in our neighborhood is probably The Fall. And one underacknowledged aspect of that band’s brilliance is the fact that they put out a new album every year come hell or high water. In doing so, they manage to sidestep the most nefarious of all criticisms — the disappointment of high expectations. Think about it. If that most recent Best Coast album had come out nine months after the first one, it wouldn’t have gotten nearly as savaged[3]. And did you know that R.E.M. released six albums in their first six years of existence? No wonder they were able to coast through the 80s more or less unscathed. Imagine if there’d been a two, or even three, year’s buildup for Fables Of The Reconstruction. People would have gone, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good, but is that it?’ Instead the band plowed through the 80s. Even if you don’t love this one, there will be another one coming along to help you forget[4].

Like The Fall, Clinic is always different/always the same. You know what you’re going to get but you don’t know how you’re going to get it.

Unfortunately, Clinic have released albums only every other year since 2000, when their debut Internal Wrangler wowed the crap out of people.[5] I wonder how their career might have played out if they’d been more prolific. When Walking With Thee came along in 2002, there was a sense of “too much like the first one” hanging over it that never quite went away, particularly when they followed that one up with Winchester Cathedral , probably the least great[6] thing they’ve done.

But for the people who jumped off the Clinic bandwagon, who moved on to other bands and fresher sounds, I want to tell them to go listen to Free Reign right now. You need to hear this.

Free Reign finds the band opening up and stretching out, embracing the drone and a slow deliberate groove — think Can playing Suicide. It also has a strong mid-70s atmosphere, very autumnal, which totally makes sense considering the dude from Oneohtrix Point Never produced it.

It’s great. I’m pretty sure Clinic just made the best album of their lives. There’s a song on here called ‘You’ that will tip that will make you shiver until the bowl of cereal dumps into your lap, milk-staining your chinos, and eventually leaving you grinning at the dumb inevitable beauty of it all.

Oh yeah, one last thing before I go. For people out there who are thinking about getting a band together, at some point early on someone is going to suggest you all wear costumes, or some kind of weird gimmicky uniform. Don’t do it. Not even for one show. The best part of being in a band is the freedom that comes along with it[7], and the minute you start ‘dressing up’ you’re giving away some of that freedom. Just know that there’s got to be one guy in Clinic who just hates wearing that fucking surgical mask. It’s been over 12 years now. As is the case with birth control, impulsive decisions can have consequences that last a lifetime.


[1] It isn’t. Not even close. I’m not even sure what this means.

[2] Also not true — at least not in any literal sense — but it works well enough within the analogy.

[3] To be clear though, that album’s fucking awful.

[4] R.E.M.’s critical reputation didn’t start to dip until the disappointment of Monster. But if that album had come out right after Automatic For The People and been followed quickly by New Adventures, people would more likely look back on Monster as an intriguing experiment with some cool moments.

[5] I saw them play the Middle East upstairs in Boston the night of September 10, 2011. The next morning’s exhaustion/hangover was a big part of the reason I just blearily shrugged when the convenience store guy pointed at the television to show me the World Trade Center was on fire. In my defense, only one plane had crashed into it at the time and I just assumed someone was a really bad pilot.

[6] Clinic have never made a truly bad album, but WC is definitely the worst.

[7] Which is why you should choose your label/booking agent/management carefully. In fact, you should always try and do as much of this stuff as you’re able to. It will save you infinite headaches in the long run.

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