Understated Classics #22: Walking With Thee by Clinic
“Walking With Thee” is the second album by Liverpool band Clinic. It was released in 2002, which seems like an age ago now. Even longer ago they released the single “The Return of Evil Bill”, which was got me interested in them in the first place.
I recently got back into “Walking With Thee” when I picked “Vulture” in my A-Z of Animals playlist last month. I’d forgotten just how great a song it is, both musically and lyrically. It’s a caution against letting those with more power and wealth lord it over us – viz, “the best that you’ve left here for others / is the best the rest of us know” – and so it’s surely much more a song for these times than back then in 2002. Anyway, I’m going to avoid too much reading into the lyrics for this particular understated classic, as most of the time Clinic are defiantly resistant to that kind of analysis.
I often champion bands that have a distinctive sound who then produce an album that is cohesive and all of their own sound. This is perhaps shorthand for saying that the songs on “Walking With Thee” “all sound the same”, but I’m really not trying to damn the album with faint praise. It’s had enough of that already and by rights, I should be fawning over their debut album “Internal Wrangler” if mainstream critical opinion is anything to go by. Now, “Internal Wrangler” is a fine album but it’s telling that when I looked in my iTunes for it I found that I’d never converted it to MP3! Sacrilege!
Anyway, Clinic have been accused of repeating their sound throughout their career which now spans 13 years and six or seven albums. Certainly the follow-up to “Walking With Thee”, the charmingly-titled “Winchester Cathedral”, sounds pretty much like a facsimile and I’ve only recently started listening to their new material again – the fabulous “Free Reign II” might appear in this month’s album digest if I can stop listening to David Bowie long enough to take in any other albums.
Like its Mondrian-referencing cover art, you can get lost in patches of “Walking With Thee” and only realise mid-song that another has started. Well, if you’re listening to it without paying too much attention. It’s one of those great albums to listen to on the tube (I must compile some sort of list!) as it rewards zoning out as much as it does zoning in.
The underpinning structure of the songs is generally Ade Blackburn’s voice and the booming drums that bounce through the majority of the upbeat tracks. At times, generally when he sings lower, they sound like Pixies (the band rather than the mythical creatures) and at others they sound like no one else, particularly on the slower songs when that high reedy voice contorts them into sinister and otherworldly shapes.
After a few listens, you notice that the riffs and the melodies are doing as much to propel and colour the songs as the lyrics are. This is good because they are easier to fix on than the lyrics as both rush by in a blur. I’d put “Walking With Thee” (along with “Internal Wrangler” and, for the most part, “Winchester Cathedral”) down as album(s) that are as interesting musically as lyrically.
There’s plenty to jump and sing along to. I don’t subscribe to the view that many of Clinic’s songs are sinister and I was disappointed when I saw them live that not more of the room wasn’t bopping along. Mind you, their habit of performing in scrubs and surgical masks does lend sufficient surreality to proceedings that perhaps me fellow gig-goers were a little too unnerved to dance along. Throughout there are melodicas and clarinets and saxophones to complement the more traditional electric guitars (tuned, mostly, to surf mode), bass guitars and synths. There is a house-y feel to the intro to “Come Into Our Room”, almost comically so, whilst “Pet Eunuch” thrashes around in a delightfully punky way. Meanwhile the pace relents on occasion for “Mr. Moonlight”, though I’d say that either “Internal Wrangler”’s “Earth Angel” or “Goodnight Georgie” would probably win any contest to decide the best Clinic slowie.
The last song “Walking With Thee” is the delightfully sinister “For The Wars”. I’ve realised in recent weeks that I’m quite in love with its singsong lullaby and its morbid undertones. It regularly makes my private playlists and it is perfect for those times when you need to see the shadows on a sunny morning.
I could write loads more about that one song, let alone the whole album. The opposites present throughout (sunlight vs moonlight, rooms vs bridges, slow vs fast etc) and so on, the significance of the bridge and that of the vulture and whatnot. But I’ll let you do that dear reader because if you do go dig this one out, I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad that you did.