I hate to acquire a disc that everyone
loves, but there are a few people in my circle whom I trust, and based on their passionate recommendation, I generally concede. However, there have been a few disappointments, times when I've had to feign my love of a band while my fire dwindled inside. I kept up the hope that things would improve with time, exuberance, finding the right listening environment...to no avail.
Judging from the size of the press packet that accompanies Winchester Cathedral (it's huge), Clinic are poised for an Interpol-style media blitz (now that Friends is off the air, we'll have to find some other schlocky sitcom for product placement). Everyone from Rolling Stone to Magnet to my aforementioned friends flock to the band's music with a devotion reserved for Christianity or the Republican National Convention, possibly fearing that a break from a constant stream of happy thoughts about the Drab/Lab Four (depending on the magazine you read) will result in waking up with a horse's head as a bedmate.
But I'm not falling for it this time.
Compared to a few of Clinic's previous efforts -- such as "Walking With Thee", which grabs you by the belt and pins you to the wall while sticking its tongue down your throat -- Winchester Cathedral offers almost nothing to hang onto. "WDYYB" comes close, breaking from the disc's stock template to rock like it's either 1964 Hamburg or 1976 CBGB's, while "Falstaff" finds purchase in the jazz lounge, following a leisurely tempo, demonstrating a greater sense of space with and making better use of the otherwise belabored melodica melodies that persist throughout the disc. Singer Ade Blackburn gives more of a dynamic performance here, cooing and harmonizing to supplement his typically Yorke-like vocals.
Sadly, both of these tracks are anomalies, breaths of fresh air amid the claustrophobic stagnancy of the rest of the disc -- a world that oscillates around similar keys and forms, sputtering along with similar rhythms (the Polka "oompah" is a popular favorite). The uninventive lo-fi production only furthers the irritation.
It's certainly possible that Winchester Cathedral is a sleeper that will click in a few months when someone digs it out during a road trip. However, whereas Walking With Thee was a wonderful relief in the indie/retro-rock world, pushing the band's internal parameters and the idea of what pop music should sound like, Winchester Cathedral feels more like a roadblock, or at least a pit stop, rather than a step forward in Clinic's previously innovative evolution.