If you really want to understand what Bubblegum, the sixth studio album from British indie-rock band Clinic, is all about, don’t watch the video for its first single, “I’m Aware.” Among its more disturbing images, the video features an entourage of creepy, expressionless, Avatar-like puppets with antlers that vibrate and perform sun salutations to a pink smiling orb that vomits rainbows.
But once you get past the trippy music videos and sleepy, dream-like wistfulness that permeates every track, the album does not stray too far from conventions. In fact, Bubblegum follows the predictable formula of enjoyable, catchy tunes that the quirky band has subscribed to on every one of their album. This is not to say the album is bad–just familiar.
Vocalist Ade Blackburn sings with a style that combines the lackadaisical rhythm of Beck with the strength and tone of Bono. He has a powerful voice and can easily hit all the big notes, but traces of apathetic slurs make Blackburn sound as if he’s perpetually had one drink too many at karaoke night. Although this at times renders his lyrics entirely incomprehensible, it only contributes to Bubblegum‘s surreal atmosphere.
Although there is still much of the trademark flowing organ sounds of the band’s last five releases, this album is Clinic’s most accessible yet, making its Miles Davis-esque cover-art of questionable significance. While they fully embrace the possibilities of the pop-rock genre, the group seems to also emphasize their love for beautifully off-scale chord progressions and minimalist guitar riffs. Unfortunately, this can only succeed for so long, and the band soon finds itself coming up short. The whole second half of the record, though populated by pleasant instrumentals, has anonymous and forgettable melodies.
Clinic has the exceptional ability to plug different variables into the same equation and produce a number of enjoyable songs. However, in setting these narrow parameters, they leave little room for expansion and growth of their style. Bubblegum is decidedly more hi-fi then previous Clinic albums, and is incomparably constructed, but the album lacks the exciting spark of exploring new territory.
- Dave Greek, host of DC BA, Mondays 6-7 p.m.