Album Cover
Winchester Cathedral
August 24, 2004


Winchester Cathedral has received almost universal flak for being less fun than Internal Wrangler and Walking with Thee. Now that Clinic have found their niche, cry the wags, they are simply squatting in it, their creative efforts stagnated while keeping their dignified individuality intact. Is this true? It's not as immediately hook-laden as their past albums, you don't immediately hear anything like "The Second Line" or "Walking with Thee", you may, in fact, dislike it. It really took the highlights of their past albums to realize how much you liked the rest of their songs, and Winchester Cathedral lacks the necessary Internal Wranglerish highlights, leaving the listener somewhat in the dark. This is not to say that it is bad, per se: many of the tunes are in fact quite memorable, but ultimately I join the wags and cry that we've heard most of it before, most of it done better, or sometimes redone more or less verbatim ("WDYYB" vs "Hippy Death Suite": oh-ho!). Still, Ade Blackburn's voice remains the coolest. He still sounds like a sniveling dimestore Star Trek villain, the kind of character whose appearance coincides with a string of stabbings on Voyager and we're supposed not to suspect him yet but we know from first sight he's guilty as hell. You can just picture Janeway getting him right in the solar plexus.

Opener "Country Mile" is a decent tune, despite the lack of any noticable change in the rhythm section over the song's three-and-a-third minutes, and starts the album off with Clinic's trademark weird urgency. The exact same sentence, with substitutions for track number and title, applies to "Circle of Fiths" which happens shortly after the end of the first track. The urgency is starting to die down a bit already, and the song begins to fall into tedium until the end, where everything jumps in and just sort of does what feels good. "Anne" passes by and "The Magician" starts up, which is, I believe, the album's first single. It also has a good tune, but something about the reverb or mixing or something just makes it sound tired and wishing it were somewhere else.

"Home" is the first song that actually sticks with you after fewer than several listens, Blackburn's touching "ba-doo ba-doo ba-doo" whispers offering something that we haven't memorized already, and also following the brash and skippable "Vertical Takeoff from Egypt" unexpectedly and nicely. Eventually we come to "Falstaff", another standout-- nothing is fuzzed out, nothing is needlessly repetitive, and the tune and lyrics are unexpectedly affecting. "Thank You for Living" features some pretty lame lyrics-- "Thank you for living/ Thank you for giving/ Thank you for being you", Blackburn hisses-- and the tune is more or less nonexistent, a thumping bass and occasional guitar work the only things rising above the ambient buzz. By the end of the album, Clinic are even resorting to reworking songs from earlier in the album-- "Fingers" bears a startling resemblance to "Circle of Fifths", and ends the album with a flourish of desparation, although the tune is better.

Ironically, the first sound of Winchester Cathedral is of a heart monitor beating rapidly and flatlining-- is this a knowing reference to the band's demise? Man, I hope not. Their past stuff is just too staggeringly good for Clinic to be out of ideas. Better to look at Winchester Cathedral as an experiment, the band retooling their sound, expanding on past themes, and just basically getting ready for what's coming next. Otherwise I'd start to worry.

Noah Jackson

Track List

  1. Country Mile
  2. Circle of Fifths
  3. Anne
  4. The Magician
  5. Vertical Takeoff from Egypt
  6. Home
  7. WDYYB
  8. The Majestic
  9. Falstaff
  10. August
  11. Thank You (For Living)
  12. Fingers