The opening chimes at the beginning of Winchester Cathedral could fool you into believing that you’re not actually listening to the new Clinic album. It’s a more common sound to hear on something by John Tesh, Richard Marx or eighties-era Whitney Houston. But it’s all a façade. The dreamy sounds are buried underneath what sounds like a heart-monitor until they finally give way to a bluesy guitar riff thoroughly marinated in reverb. From there, there’s no mistaking it. This is, most definitely, a Clinic album.
On each Clinic record, you’re guaranteed a few key elements — bouncy, primal drums with very minimal use of snare, guitar reverb a-plenty and the haunting, fiendish vocals of Ade Blackburn. You know Clinic when you hear them, and that’s exactly how you like it. The Liverpudlian quartet keeps it simple, but weird, sounding like the bastard sons of Lee Perry and The Fall. And Winchester Cathedral is just one more brilliant step in the British band’s journey to greatness.
The first single, “The Magician,” amps up the distortion to give the trademark Clinic sound an extra dose of noise, while “Circle of Fifths” rides on frantically pounded piano. That’s just the beginning, however, as some of the less radio-friendly tunes offer more intriguing material. Instrumental track “Vertical Takeoff for Egypt” is a drunken slide-blues jam that sounds as maddening and bizarre as the rest of the band’s work, but far less controlled. Take the aforementioned Fall and Perry and add some Captain Beefheart, if you want to imagine it yourself.
“Falstaff” is one of the slower tracks on the record, no less reliant on reverb, but more subdued and reminiscent of `60s girl groups. The following track, “August,” is manic, waltzing klezmer-influenced punk, with the scariest sounding clarinet in the world.
But no Clinic album would be complete without one or two straight-up punk rock rave-ups. “WDYYB” is such a rave-up, simple, distorted and snotty. And it’s one of the few tracks that doesn’t shy away from the snare drum. But quite to the contrary, “The Majestic #2” is one of the most upbeat, catchy songs Clinic has ever recorded.
There’s not a single bad track on Winchester Cathedral, and no shortage of pleasant surprises. And though many have an inherent bias against the band, whether it be for their surgeon mask gimmickry or enthusiastic endorsements by Radiohead, a band who, themselves, have made enemies based on their popularity alone, there’s no arguing that Clinic is indeed a unique band with a sound that stays fresh in all of its weirdness.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.