Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Clinic- Internal Wrangler

Sometimes my perception of a band is forever tainted by the fact that the first album I heard of their's was a lesser work. This happened to me with Sigur Ros, who's Agaetis Byrjun is reportedly a masterpiece but I unfortunately settled for () instead, an album that has a half hour of great material but is padded out to more than twice that with samey sounding stuff. I fell into this exact same trap with Clinic, reading that Internal Wrangler was great but ended up getting their Walking With Thee instead because I liked the video for the eponymous song. As it turned out, Walking With Thee was about 20 minutes of great material with 15 minutes of samey sounding stuff. History repeats itself.

Well, I've still never gone back to Sigur Ros, but I did recently finally get around to Internal Wrangler during my ongoing process of compiling a list of the best albums of this decade. And while I can see why people might've gone crazy for this album back in 2000, I'm not sure, with the remove of time and a critical lens on my side, that I would call it a masterpiece. It's one of those four stars out of five "masterpieces" that was overly praised on its releases and is in need of a critical re-evaluation. Mind you, I don't come here to bury Internal Wrangler. It's still a pretty great album with a handful of excellent songs. It's just not in the same tier as 2000 contemporaries like Kid A and The Moon & Antarctica.

The problem with the album, and Clinic in general, is that they sound like an amalgamation of various sounds/influences and never transcend these. As Pitchfork put it in a review of Funf, they draw "...from dub, surf-rock, doo-wop, psych, British jazz, girl groups, the Velvet Underground, and everything in between." I would simplify this by saying they sound like 60s rock, with organs and harmonicas showing up frequently, set to modern day head nodding beats and treble heavy production. The Velvet Underground comment rings especially true for me, since 'Earth Angel' starts out sounding a lot like 'Some Kinda Love' while 'Distortions' lyrically borrows (steals??) from 'Candy Says', with its "I'd to know completely what other's so discretely talk about" line. Meanwhile, the raucous 'C.Q.' sounds like a particularly coked up 60s garage rock band--didn't anybody tell Clinic that this sort of pastiche would be more popular in 2001, when The Strokes and White Stripes blew up??

Internal Wrangler is an enjoyable album nonetheless. In fact, I used to listen to Walking With Thee a lot despite thinking it's generally weak. So why did I listen to it so much?? To be perfectly up front with you, I didn't know why back then and I still don't know why now. But I digress. Internal Wrangler is the better of the two but it retains that same compelling, listenable quality despite my reservations about. I think it's probably just the sheer sound and the head nodding quality I wrote about earlier. After all, Clinic's singing/lyrics are only memorable on the ballads, and I've never found their melodies, in general terms, particularly catchy or interesting. There are exceptions, but once the novelty of Clinic's sound wore off, most people stop following the band. By all accounts their post-Walking albums are solid if unexceptional.

In the end, Clinic are one of those unfortunate cases where a band produces a pretty good, interesting debut album that gets overrated on release, and they never manage to make anything that's better and/or different enough. Let's set the cliche of how hipsters and music critics often lift their nose in the air, knowingly, and pronounce that a band's first album was "better", because in the case of Internal Wrangler it's not a cliche. I don't know that I'd say everyone needs some Clinic in their lives, but if you happen to feel that you do, Internal Wrangler is where it begins and ends.

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