By: Eric Greenwood
Much like The Fall, Clinic suffers from a one-dimensional palette. That's not a death-knell by any means. The Fall has made a multi-decade career out of it. And much like that band's enduring antics, the experimental nature of Clinic's deliberately off-kilter tunes is becoming increasingly like a one-trick pony. The band's early singles and even its debut, Internal Wrangler, showed promise above and beyond the mystery that shrouds its spiky, reverb-drenched guitars, inverted surf doom, and jittery paranoia. But for the long-awaited Winchester Cathedral, Clinic has chosen merely to paint with not only the same brush but also the same paint.
It's frustrating to listen to a band run in place, especially when the expectations are so much higher. Clinic has run its scrubs schtick into the ground, and its musical persona isn't far behind. That is not to say that Winchester Cathedral is without merit. On the opener, "Country Mile", lead singer Ade Blackburn sounds like a hobbit with his jaw sewn shut, as his creepy voice hisses above wiry, strangled guitar jabs. The anticipatory tension builds without release. "Circle of Fifths" broadens the musical landscape in tiny steps, incorporating piano into the macabre melodies. Blackburn's indecipherable yammer is still intriguing, though not as arresting as it once was
Too much of Winchester Cathedral plays a slight of hand. It's a never-ending tease disguised as substance. Waiting for Clinic to break through the games and actually deliver something that isn't detached or hidden behind its calculated image grows tiresome. From the distant clatter of clarinets in "The Magician" to the soulful sway of "Falstaff", Clinic at least tries to infuse new blood into its veins. The latter song, incidentally, is the album's highlight, as Blackburn's creepy cooing recalls an amalgamation of schmaltzy crooners of '70's soul. It's like a snake trying to be sexy: painfully uncomfortable but you don't want to turn away for fear of being bitten.
The album is far too short to drag like it does in spots ("Vertical Takeoff from Egypt"). The anxiousness of its early days has been replaced with a sense of safety and complacency in its insular weirdness. You can sense that the band wants to break out of its shell but only threatens to do so for fear of breaking the spell. Even with budding classics like the Kid A-esque "Thank You (For Living)" with its sinewy guitars and dancey propulsion, Winchester Cathedral is a lateral move. For the band's early hype to fulfill its promise, the next record can't hide behind smoke and mirrors.