A Clinic in Repetition

Certainly, repetition and paraphrasing are valid tools for artistic expression. Expressing yourself artistically using repetition and paraphrasing is certainly valid. In a few cases, modern musical artists simple repeat a prior album. Not re-issue. Repeat, as in re-record and release a completely new version. Laibach, a Slovenian band, released a nearly song-for-song remake of the Beatles Let it Be. Dessa, a poetic hip hop artist re-recorded the songs from her first album, A Badly Broken Code, on her second album, Castor, the Twin, following a live tour of the prior recording. Gang of Four, dissatisfied with the quality of some of their earlier recordings did a note-for-note, higher quality recording released as Return the Gift. Now, it’s Clinic’s turn.

Free Reign II by Clinic

Free Reign II by Clinic

In this particular case, Clinic, a Liverpool based surgical-mask wearing band, released the first version of Free Reign way back in November 2012. Remember 2012? We were all nervously worrying about 100 years remaining until Rush’s album comes true. Now, 5 near-endless months later (4 of them did actually end), they’ve released Free Reign II emerged. I can’t say what the prior version was like and, frankly, I don’t care. This is about now, this album, and these versions. We’re here today. Get used to it.

In each song, Clinic seems to take a fairly ordinary, well-written song and place it in a different noise regime. Let’s take a quick tour of

The Song The Noise
Sun and Moon II Circus
You II Playground
King Kong II Oneida
Cosmic Radiation II Jazz Nightmare
Seamless Boogie Woogie Gary Numan
See Saw II Middle School Band Percussion
Miss You II Muzak version of Le Tigre
Clinic, in costume

Clinic, in costume

So, did I say “surgical mask wearing” yet? Indeed, I did. The band has a peculiar sense of humor and theater (“theatre” to them) that they attribute to being fans of the Residents, another band that performs in identity-obscuring outfits.

Aside from the changing noise regimes, the music is actually fairly simple and sometimes a bit odd, claustrophobic even. Sun and Moon II is basically a mildly sing-songy voice over the odd circus-like sounds, backed by a Doors-like keyboard and a bass line that artfully goes in and out of tune. It’s not trance-inducing psychedelia, it’s more like a simple hypnotic feel. You II has a quiet urgency of someone feeling both amorous and a little angry with a percussion that I, a non-percussionist, could do if my bass drum leg weren’t vulnerable to repetitive motion injuries. King Kong II sounds almost exactly like the music from Oneida’s Rated O, except with a vocal from the back of a cargo van. If you listen this far, you’re probably hooked. If you’ve already given up due to boredom or emergent psychoses, don’t come back … to the album, I mean. You’re welcome to visit the blog with or without your psychoses.

Still with me? OK. The album continues with the department store synths and the slowly swirling sound of For the Season II. Also, a gentle clarinet solo. Yes, clarinet. By time you reach Miss You II, you’ll swear you’re in a remix version of a song by the XX as done by Le Tigre. Well, I’ll swear it at least. For me, the swinging jazz nightmare of Cosmic Radiation II is the song that characterizes the album’s creative style, if not quite it’s musical style. Let’s throw random stuff out there, and link it to a not-quite-logical chorus using a relentless quiet bass line. Oh, and make sure some of it sounds intentionally amateurish and reminiscent of something else. Now, skip a few, and be confused by the bizarrely amateurish percussion (a 7 year old, just graduating from pots and pans?) of See Saw II and know that you’re listening to the best song, odd though it may be.

So why, on earth would a band remake an album released a mere 4-5 months ago? Rumor has it that they had everything done and got a highly-reputed producer to mix it, turning it into something kind of adventurous. As most people will do in such a situation, including me, they got cold feet and put out a mostly more conventional mix. Second thoughts and bravery emerged and they released the new mixes, in reverse order and called it Free Reign II. There must be more to it, but, since I’m a mere commentator and not a professional journalist, I’ll just let it go. Besides, a little mystery is good, eh?

11 thoughts on “A Clinic in Repetition

  1. I suppose if you can re-record an album you put out mere months ago and get away with it, well why not?

    I’m not too familiar with Clinic, other than they were masks. Like Slipknot? Or Gwar? No, just surgical masks. Gynecologists rocking out with the synths. Cool.

    • I confess that, if I knew about the masks before I bought the album, I would have passed on it as too pretentious and thus would have become both a hypocrite and missed out on a cool album. Now, if the rocking gynecologists had been mentioned, curiosity would have overcome snobbery.

      Slipknot and Gwar? Aren’t they much more suitable to posters than audio players?

  2. Rocking gynecologists? OK, maybe not so cool….

    But to return to that kinder, gentler time when we tried to do everything once and well…and when repetition was more a sign of creative block or, dare I say it?, laziness…I don’t know, there is something about putting out something for which you want people to pay money and then deciding it was not exactly perfect and re-releasing. Ha. Fans are such chumps? Not bad if you release the update online and let folks who purchased the original download for free the 2.0 version…

    • You are right. It takes a kind of bravery or rudeness to redo it and demand listeners. To avoid playing in to that, I refuse to buy or even listen to the first version, but then by buying the second, I’m an enabler.

      The worst example of repetition I know of: One of my occasional-favorite bands, Wire, did an album that took one single song (from a prior album) and did 9 versions of it all with different titles. Worse yet, it was a hugely repetitive sounding song after only 1 play.

      I’m guessing that, for anyone who’s had first hand professional experience of gynecologists might not find rocking gynecologists. But me, who has a minor juvenile streak? It makes me giggle.

    • In case you or anyone you know think otherwise, I’m completely cool with taking an idea and trying a bazillion variations. Someone you may know has a cool thing for six-strings, for example. I’m all for that!

    • Me, too. I’d probably also be a little embarrassed which probably proves I don’t have the ego to be a big time musician … or nothing remixable or, for that matter, mixable … yet.

Am I wrong?