Clinic is one of those bands who bounded into the music scene with a big bang. After a one-two-three punch of EPs (that were compiled together for a release), they dropped Internal Wrangler and charmed everyone from Radiohead to me, with tons in-between. The problem with releasing a debut album with as much punch and dynamo as Clinic did with Internal Wrangler, though, is that it becomes expected of you with every release. It's so prevailent that every time someone mentions sophomore album, the word "difficult" almost always precedes it.
One of the things that got me interested in the group in the first place was almost a sense of danger that I had listening to their albums. Even during the quieter tracks on each of their releases, there was always a sense that something could go wrong, and on the more rocking numbers it seemed like they were just enough in control that their instruments didn't go flying. They revelled in their rough edges, and it made for a good listen.
It's mainly for that reason that Walking With Thee seems like a bit of a letdown upon first hearing it. Although there are moments on the disc where the group turns things up to 10 ("Pet Eunuch"), the disc as a whole has sort of an austere quality that lets some of the fun out of the sails. It's on the first track "Harmony" that one gets an introduction to this almost Kraftwerkian clean-ness. Moving along with a fairly simple bassline and an eerie keyboard line, the track takes on a very dark tone, and even the lyrics of Ade Blackburn are fairly decipherable (especially the great, piano laced chorus of 'fill yourself with dreams'). "The Equaliser" bumps things up a bit as the second track, with a distorted, rattling drum beat and some horns.
From there out, the group starts to work back into a groove, and over the course of the middle section it feels like tracks you've heard before already. The album titled track "Walking With Thee" again throws in a ton of that ultra-fuzzy organ sounds that the group likes so well, but it just fails to really go anywhere, while the aforementioned "Pet Eunuch" brings the rock but unfortunately sounds very similar to "Hippy Death Suite" from their last release. The same goes with "Mr. Moonlight," which nearly exactly echoes the bass, guitar, and organ of "Earth Angel."
Fortunately, the group picks things up again on "Come Into Our Room," and the track again takes on the cold, severe edge that makes the album opener work so well. Although it has a fairly standard 4/4 beat, the track skirts along with some creepy keyboard melodies and haunted vocals by Blackburn. On "The Bridge" they again bring the rock a bit (with a cowbell intro!), while "Sunlight Bathes Our House" has a nice mix of horns and some catchy lyrical wordplay that turns the track into what sounds like a somewhat sinister playground sing-along.
Of course, even with the somewhat saggy middlesection (which sounds more like Clinic barely reworking their own songs rather than creating new ones), there still really aren't any other groups out there that sound like them. As mentioned above, this is still technically only their second album, and it's easy to hear that they're still trying to find their musical footing. Given their past efforts, though, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they're stunning me again.