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At first, longtime Clinic fans might think that Bubblegum is an ironic title -- after all, the band spent so much of their career forging clangorous, mysterious, art-punk that it seems impossible that anything overtly poppy or catchy would enter their surgery scrub-clad minds, much less their music. Yet Clinic’s sound has always had a pretty side, and they push it to the fore of this album. Bubblegum’s first few songs are some of the band’s sweetest, simplest, and catchiest in some time; “Baby” is downright soothing, with wah-wah guitars cocooning Ade Blackburn as he coos about “all who adore you.” Of course, this is Clinic, so this sudden sweetness isn’t all it seems. The album-opener “I’m Aware” is a surprisingly vulnerable admission of just how great love can be, but it sounds like a warped Muzak version of the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around,” and as Blackburn sings “in the dark you’re never gone/in the dark you’re never done,” it becomes a little dirty and more than a little unsettling. Even though Clinic returns to more familiar territory later on Bubblegum, it’s still in keeping with the rest of the album’s subversive gentleness. Fiery garage rock is replaced with acerbic acid rock on the marimba-laden “Lion Tamer,” and the band’s sneering is even stranger than usual on the deeply trippy “Orangutan.” “Forever (Demis’ Blues)” revisits Visitations’ folk grooves, but “Another Way of Giving” turns them lush and hypnotic. Indeed, one of Bubblegum’s biggest treats is hearing Clinic play with sounds in a way that they haven’t since their early B-sides. As Blackburn sings on the title track, there are “no limitations here.” They dip into everything from exotica to electro-folk on the instrumental “Un Astronauta en Cielo”, which sets a breezy melody to the hiss and tick of a vintage drum machine, and still leave room for the spoken word tale of love and squalor on “Radiostory.” It's definitely a change from Clinic’s brash art-punk and wicked folk, but it's one the band had to make to keep their music vital. Fortunately, Bubblegum’s sound is so inviting that it sticks.

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