Like an international friendly, the B-Side is often an opportunity to see an artist discover new heights while the pressure is off, it's a chance for new elements of their game to be given an airing and for these elements to be shown the luxury of a total removal from any grand context, be it a tournament or an album. But as with nearly every friendly under Sven's reign a collection of B-sides and rarities can often turn into a total mishmash of experimentation and half baked ideas. And at the risk of killing this perfectly good analogy, England's friendly against Brazil the other week proves that even the best team in the world can be caught out by a bunch of cretins if they're not careful. So, as awesome as Clinic have performed in the past, I approached Funf with caution for all the reasons stated above.
I may conclude with a cheeky football reference but for now this analogy is over, I promise. This collection gives a pretty concise cross section of Clinic's history but for that reason it sometimes trips itself up. It spans a career that started on a high note with their debut Internal Wrangler right up to last years fantastic Visitations and it really shows the quality of a band when a collection such as this is not easily mapped chronologically. The singles off the debut are as varied as the album itself. Magic Boots is a raw piece of early dirt-rock while the album opener The Majestic holds all the sparse, eeriness of a time long forgotten.
Nicht, off 2004 album Winchester Cathedral's The Magician, is a furious onslaught of pure filth and is not a pleasant listen with its underproduced, tinny teeth bearing but is thankfully followed by one of the albums highlights. Christmas shows Clinic strip away all the noise and allow their uneasiness all the space it needs, Ade Blackburn's clenched teethed vocals quiver over delicate guitar and their trademark organ.
It's hard to imagine any single off the latest album mixing in less than impeccable company and Lee Shan, the flip side to the awesome Harvest (Within You) doesn't let the side down. It has all the twisted surf-rock delight of it's A-side with a steady build up of jangling guitars and Blackburn's forced vocals brimming over with tension. One of the main delights on this collection is when these vocals are removed and the music is allowed centre stage. The album closes with Golden Rectangle, a marvelously underplayed instrumental that illustrates perfectly why this band is so unique. Their music evokes a nostalgia that isn't easily identified as it often sounds like it's coming from the vast halls of an empty ballroom once occupied and full of life but is now full of echoes and ghostly voices that accompany the eery melodies of melancholia.
And so being English the mere mention of the word melancholia brings be back to my football analogy. This collection of 'Friendlies' is very much a mixed bag where we have seen over the years Clinic try out some new ideas that haven't worked and indulge themselves in some areas of their game that really have. When the pressure's off it's a joy to see this band ease up on the gas and explore the subtle nuances that make their albums so memorable. It's not the result that counts here but the quiet fine-tuning of their art in preparation for when it really counts.