Music Reviews
Free Reign

Clinic Free Reign

(Domino) Rating - 6/10

Clinic will always sound like Clinic, and that’s hard to get away from. No matter how much they adjust their formula, Ade Blackburn’s eerie, tense vocals still stamp every song with the Clinic trademark. 2010’s Bubblegum saw them moving towards a pop-oriented sound. Free Reign is slower, a bit more experimental and full of wandering codas. They’ve made a return to the cryptic songwriting of the past. The Clinic fan can tell the difference, but I doubt anyone unfamiliar with the band would hear a shift.

Opene rMisty is sparse and tense, building slowly around a plodding bassline into a midtempo psych jam. They take their time, and it pays off. It’s repetitive but mesmerizing, shifting chords and tempos at just the right time. The album is full of moments like that. The songs build from a minimalist groove into something special. Miss You is exceptional. It takes a hard turn halfway through, before almost imperceptibly bringing it back to the refrain. It takes some time, but its well worth the wait. Their newfound jam band tendencies can certainly fall flat, but that often serves to make the record more intriguing. They sound loose and relaxed.

Unfortunately, a loose and relaxed Clinic tends to fall back into old habits. Even with a slightly different approach, the easy single, See Saw, is mediocre and misplaced. It’s a faster, more guitar driven and less jam based song that sounds like a shadow of their past selves. It disrupts what could have been a pretty solid flow from song to song, and it does it early. It is, however, one of the only fast paced songs on the record. Without it, Free Reign is just a seemingly endless sea of midtempo tracks. They fit together well, but that’s only because they so sound similar. It’s easy to overlook solid closer Sun and Moon simply because it sounds just like the songs that came before it. A lot of potential standout tracks get lost.

Clinic the jam band has some great ideas, but that’s just it. Some great ideas. Not a lot of great ideas. They have a few that they fall back on over and over again. They certainly can cook up a mesmerizing psych jam, but it ends up overused. It’s a record that often fades into the background. Free Reign is one third pleasant surprise, two thirds forgettable. It’s short but manages to feel long. It’s interesting but manages to feel dull.