Clinic - Free Reign

‘Free Reign’ is kaleidoscopic, warped and utterly brilliant.

Label: Domino

Rating: 8

When Clinic emerged at the back end of the 90s, clad in surgical outfits and boldly singing ‘IPC Sub-Editors Dictate Our Youth’, the Liverpudlian foursome unintentionally informed their appeal over the intervening fifteen years: critical darlings without ever really crossing over. What’s more, they’re beloved of their fellow artists - touring with Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Flaming Lips - yet perhaps have always been that bit too weird for consumption by the great unwashed.

Does ‘Free Reign’ alter this? Not remotely. But it’s a fantastically skewed exercise in sheer contrarianism. Imagine Mark E. Smith dropping acid with John Coltrane in Sun Ra’s commune. ‘Free Reign’ is kaleidoscopic, warped and utterly brilliant. How can you argue with song titles such as ‘Seamless Boogie Woogie BBC2 10pm (rpt)’? The simple drum machine grooves are bolstered by Ade Blackburn’s slurred delivery, the shimmering synths and the rippling pools of guitar noise. ‘King Kong’ in particular sounds like it could have been birthed in San Francisco 1967, Liverpool 1978 and New York 2050, the organ and bongo groove interrupted halfway through by some bonkers trickery which sounds like the recording studio having a meltdown before returning to some semblance of normality.

The warped funk of ‘Free Reign’ aligns with all the cosmic tropes of vintage Krautrock and free jazz, but is beyond simple comparisons. There’s a bewitching quality to it which suggests Clinic actually only exist in some form of musical vacuum. And right now, that sounds like a most spellbinding place to be.