Fantasy Island by Clinic

Release date: October 22, 2021
Label: Domino

As the wet grey autumn really settles in and wraps around us Clinic‘s new album Fantasy Island offers up a vision of tropical escape. Or at least a cheap package holiday in the sun. Despite the band’s pioneering work in making surgical masks stylish, Fantasy Island skips the pandemic and comes to us from the time before Covid. Recorded in summer 2019 just as Johnson became PM. Which, appropriately enough, now seems a long time ago and far, far away.

Clinic have long been out on their own, our most overlooked weirdo garage pop band, building a sound world from flotsam out of the Mersey. Reusing old gear has always been core to their identity. This time there are several new toys in the mix including “an electronic acid bass machine, a 1970’s cocktail rhythm unit, a Casio digital horn and space drum.” With the band now down to a duo, they provide the album’s rhythmic back bone and fill out it’s sun bleached sound palette. Electric high hats hiss, syndrums boop and cocktail rhythms percolate. Melodies shimmer like sunlight on the ocean. The album buzzes with disco lounge sounds in fake tropical surrounds.

It still sounds like Clinic of course, they haven’t really gone disco or made an exotica record, just mixed those flavours in and popped a little umbrella in the top. Never leaning too heavily towards the retro aspects of using this type of gear, they’re content to let it carry its nostalgic associations without pointing and winking at us. The new sounds aren’t thrust into the spotlight but make up the fabric of a set of typically taut, infectious, songs. The title track rides an insistent squelchy rhythm, Ade Blackburn’s voice dragged through an escalating series of effects. There’s a burst of canned applause, a twinkle that recalls ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ and it all builds to a repeating chant of “Fantasy Island” that sounds like he’s far from relaxed or having fun.

It’s less the sound of sun kissed beaches than a disillusioned drunk outside a provincial nightclub in the pissing rain. The lengthy ‘Refractions (In The Rain)’ mixes up garage psych and 80’s electro pop with some flair to produce a constantly shifting sonic patchwork over a synthetic groove. They also turn in a decent enough cover of Ann Peebles’ ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’, although why exactly is unclear. Hard to tell if it’s intended to join some of the album’s ideas together or they just fancied it. As so often with Clinic, it remains a bit of a puzzle.

‘On the Other Side’ reaches peak charity shop lounge core, throwing harps and sax parts onto swaying percussion loops and topping it off with a voice over from an old yoga record. There’s a playfulness in the way they cut and paste the sounds, twisting and smudging it with echo so the smooth, calm, elements become chaotic by the end. This gleeful playing with the plastic qualities of sound happens right across the album but they push it to maximum artificiality here.

While their last album Wheeltappers and Shunters trawled 70’s Britain, a world of fag smoke, brown polyester and simmering resentment, Fantasy Island moves on to the Club Tropicana 80’s and futurist fantasies of wealth and sunshine filtered through a little 60’s exotica. It’s not the island but the fantasy that interests them, the artifice of it, the delicate web of delusion projected by the fake woodblocks and pre-sets, the thin but charming sound of dated electronics. Take another closer look at the cover. An old exotica sleeve so badly photoshopped it can only be deliberate and a landmark of their hometown, the Liver Building, sinking in the bay.  As Blackburn sings on on first track ‘The Lamplighter’, “In time and reflection, all the deceptions will be gone…”

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