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Wheeltappers And Shunters Julian Marszalek , May 17th, 2019 09:23

The new album by Clinic – their first in seven years – contains a warning amidst its deep space and claustrophobic textures, finds Julian Marszalek

At first glance, Wheeltappers And Shunters, the first album in seven years from Liverpool psychedelic practitioners Clinic, elicits two involuntary reactions and neither of them are particularly good. But not for long.

The album’s title is taken from a particularly dreadful TV variety show from the 70s called The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club. Set in a fictional and titular northern workingmen’s club, the show was introduced by comedian Colin Crompton who, while playing the role as the club’s chairman, presaged Donald Trump’s hairdo while throwing Frank Skinner’s parentage into question. Aided and abetted by the divisive figure of Bernard Manning as the club’s compare, the show frequently wallowed in an atmosphere of nostalgia and insularity. Little wonder that Noel Gallagher has set his latest video there, and to see that name again is to prompt a shudder in memory of tar-stained walls and beige clothing.

The second reaction is a sharp raising of the eyebrows with the realisation that Clinic’s eighth album, containing 12 tracks, clocks in at less than 30 minutes. It’s not unreasonable to check that an EP hasn’t been sent by mistake, but any fears that the band is skimping after such a delay between releases are soon allayed once the music starts, for what we have here is a high concentration of ideas that punch well above their supposed weight.

Clinic’s touchstones remain 13th Floor Elevators, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and shards of rockabilly slicing through the material, but the concoction they brew from these ingredients is entirely their own. In the process, Clinic also succeed in creating a sense of dense claustrophobia despite offering space and separation within the instrumentation. So while there’s comfort to be had from the familiarity of sound, it’s difficult to shake the sinister mood of menace that it creates.

Indeed, what Wheeltappers And Shunters does so successfully in these times of rampant longing from certain quarters for a Britain that never existed is to unlock long-suppressed terrors and ill-feeling from a younger age. ‘New Equations (At The Copacabana)’ could easily be the soundtrack to a never-ending ghost train ride on the Devil’s own pleasure beach as elsewhere, the creepiness of ‘Congratulations’ evokes the terror felt by infants when momentarily losing their parents in a crowded department store.

Clinic’s warning against yearning for a time viewed through rose-tinted spectacles is implicit throughout but, as laid out by the album title, warns against pining for a time of Jim’ll Fix It badges, dodgy coupons on the side of jam jars and humour that punches down. Not least when we stand so close to it all becoming a reality all over again.