At the launch party for Domino Record's 10th-birthday gig, a film was screened in which one commentator said that not having many hit singles helped explain why the label has survived as an independent. Not that Domino's acts are slackers: after all, there are some duly revered talents on label founder Laurence Bell's roster, from Sebadoh and Pavement, to Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Smog, the Pastels and Four Tet. And it's no exaggeration to say that Clinic stand proud among them, in terms of being both singularly inspired and unlikely to bother Domino's operation with too much chart action.
The Liverpudlian four-piece certainly won't prompt any Strokes-style fashion spreads, given that their stage garb consists of surgical masks and orderly scrubs. But they look great anyway, and there's some magnificent voodoo at work in the mutant melange of their sound, where the seemingly implausible combination of Phil Spector, Sixties girl-pop, trashy psychedelia, acid-fried swamp blues, percussive punk, jazzy experimentation and wheezy organs merge.
Formed in 1997, Clinic showed their flair for performing strange operations on pop music by nabbing rave NME reviews for a satirical debut single called "IPC Sub-Editors Dictate Our Youth". They arrive onstage like an art-garage installation, sporting ready-to-work hospital clobber and playing beneath screens picturing a woman grooving happily in Sixties hippy-chic style.
They soon hit their own groove, too: as busy as Clinic's sound is, it's played with an urgency so sheer it sounds panic-stricken. The vocalist, Ade Blackburn, sings like he's being forced to at knifepoint in a nippy morgue. What's more, their songs really drive, whether on the psychotic party stomp of "The Return of Evil Bill" or the Cramps-go-pop "Walking with Thee".
The wickedly catchy chorus of the latter even receives a little audience participation - it's a simple yelp-along, with Blackburn crying "No!" repeatedly. Often, though, the band's lyrics verge on the infectiously experimental, pitched somewhere between spooky childsong and the cut-up nonsense-speak of the bluesy "The Second Line".
But Clinic do have a way with a melody, albeit one that involves ripping songs apart and reassembling them in skewed yet beautiful shapes, like some Frankenstein's monster of sound. Come to think of it, it would be great to see such a one-off band make serious chart incisions. They have the songs, the fans in high places (Radiohead) and the concept sewn up; now they just need patients. Their third album is out next year, so buy it and be worked on.