Winchester Cathedral by Clinic (Review)

Even longtime Clinic fans may find this more of the same.
Winchester Cathderal - Clinic

Clinic’s debut album, Internal Wrangler, was a completely unique and addictive musical jewel — at times blisteringly loud and at others soothingly soft, a dangerous jumble of bone-dry, clanging guitars and mellowed out organs, with the weird and fierce warbles of singer Ade Blackburn, muffled by a surgical mask, mumbling and cooing over the noise. Crazed rockers like “The Return of Evil Bill” and “2/4” stood alongside beautiful ballads like “Distortions” and “Goodnight Georgie,” and the diversity of their moods showed their talent and promise.

Their second album, Walking With Thee, though a bit more polished, shared many of the same similarities. Crazed rockers like “Harmony” and “Walking With Thee” stood alongside beautiful ballads like “Mr. Moonlight” and “For the Wars,” and the diversity of their moods showed their talent and promise. And now, on their third album, Winchester Cathedral, the band shows their talent and promise, putting crazed rockers like “Circle of Fifths” and “The Magician” alongside beautiful ballads like “Home” and “Falstaff.”

Sound a little repetitive? That’s because it is. Clinic has made a career out of making an albums’ worth of the same few catchy surf rock numbers and delicate slow songs, to the point that even devoted followers of the band have difficulty telling one song from another. Their debut was magic, but subsequent releases seem like unimaginitive attempts to recreate it, to the point of blatant imitation. Though they have thrown in elements of change and tried different things on each new album, this is, for the most part, a band that is content with leaving its sound the way it is.

The first salvo of blaring rockers — “Country Mile,” “Circle Of Fifths,” and “The Magician” — delve into familiar Clinic territory, with a simple but brutal guitar line and repetitive, barely decipherable vocals. Their excellence is undebatable, but the overly familiar sound and the ghost of previous songs haunt them to their detriment. Good as they are, one can’t help but feel like it’s all been done before.

And so while the album is consistent in its quality, the best songs here are the most surprising. Clinic treads new territory in a few of the tracks — namely the quieter ones. “Anne” features Blackburn’s vocals at their most ethereal, floating over twangy western guitars, melodica, and rattling tambourine. “Home” is, indesputably, one of the band’s best songs to date, a slowburning, haunting song with low strummed guitar and a chorus hopeful in text but sinister in delivery — “You’ll get back home again.” It’s songs like these two, as well as the stomping “The Majestic #2” and the autumnal “Falstaff,” that are the album’s greatest strenghts.

But the question is, is it really worth your time? The band expands little and idles greatly. Even for those happily addicted to what Clinic has already served up, another hefty serving of more of the same can be a bit trying. At what point do we stop buying their CDs, depleted of hope for a new song? It’s this lack of change, this repetitiveness, that makes their newest release a somewhat average affair. And it’s an unfortunate thing to say, considering it contains some of their best songs to date. If songwriting were a measure of a band’s quality, Clinic ranks high, but if diversity and versatility were also a factor, Clinic lags behind.

If you do consider getting their newest release, know that while it is pretty good, you have probably heard most of it before — in other words, no need to really bother.

Written by Richie DeMaria.

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