Who Are These Masked Men? Clinic goes hunting for an identity yet again.

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At the risk of sounding like my mother, Clinic’s fourth full-length, Visitations, would sound a hell of a lot better if you could understand some of its lyrics. Singer Ade Blackburn isn’t kidding when he says that Visitations is “the most consistent thing we’ve ever done,” and the relentless consistency might have benefited from coherent changes in subject matter. This wasn’t as much of a problem on the band’s debut full-length, 2000’s Internal Wrangler, partly because Blackburn hadn’t quite perfected his ability to relegate words to mere sounds—you can actually understand what he’s saying—and partly because its unexpected blend of doo-wop, electronics, and garage rock made his talk of sisters and “diki diki di-mom-i-non” seem entirely secondary. On Visitations, Clinic returns to Internal Wrangler’s producer, Gareth Jones, and to much of its sonic philosophy. But anyone who, like me, dismissed the band’s second and third albums as too smoothed-out, too glammy, and too digestible needn’t get too excited: it’s a return to form that returns too many times. The album starts promisingly, with the slide guitar of “Family” carried by an energetic tribal thump. Unfortunately, drummer Carl Turney’s habit of riding his pedals becomes so overwhelming that by the fourth track, “Harvest (Within You),” you expect rain to start falling. There are some surprising moments: “Animal/Human” is a creepy ballad of vocals, finger snaps, and out-of-tune Autoharp that sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber; the wah-wah guitar and maracas that join in toward the end make for one of Clinic’s best switch-’em-ups. And “Children of Kellogg,” which is mostly more of the same charging thump, hi-hat, and guitar, ends sweetly, making like a pop ballad at a teen social circa 1963—it’s the most charming minute on the album. But “Paradise” slows down the middle of the disc with a dusty mosey that rips off Mutations-era Beck, and the rest of Visitations has enough samey moments that listening devolves into a game of deciphering the lyrics. On the tinny, punky “Tusk,” is Blackburn warning us, “You’d better slap the hose”? Is “Children of Kellogg” an ode to “baklava portions/baklava white”? A trademark sound isn’t always a bad thing, but for a band that once charmed by sounding new, strict adherence can emphasize less important trademarks—like the surgical masks they wear onstage, and Blackburn’s marble-mouthed vocals. Clinic is better than that. Or at least it was.