When Clinic released its second album, Walking With Thee, in 2002, fans complained that the record wasn't a significant advance over the U.K. band's 2000 debut, Internal Wrangler, or its earlier EPs. But in retrospect, Walking With Thee marked a welcome enhancement of Clinic's sound: It took the "Velvet Underground meets The Ventures meets Wire" art-spook that the group had perfected and added clearer vocals and more insinuating melodies. Still, Clinic's new Winchester Cathedral finds the band spinning its wheels.
"Country Mile" opens the album with a bit of ominous beeping, before the group launches into the same pulsing two-note vamp that it's played on about two dozen other songs. That's followed by the same distorted, melodica-like keyboards, the same jittery Ade Blackburn vocal, and a familiar set of paranoid lyrics. "Circle Of Fifths" starts promisingly with an arresting spiral piano pattern, but then the pulse, the keyboards, and Blackburn all pick up where they left off. "Anne" changes the pace, but holds to the moody minimalist balladry that Clinic could probably patent if it hadn't been lifted directly from VU's "Countess From Hong Kong."
In and of itself, Winchester Cathedral is a fine introduction to Clinic and an entertaining 35 minutes of evocative rock. But it's hard to believe that at this late date, having been together for seven years, the band can't find new modes of musical expression. Only once does Clinic break something like new ground, on the sultry "Falstaff," which combines quietly cooing vocals, reedy horns, and distantly twanging guitar to craft a mood akin to prom night on Mars. Otherwise, Winchester Cathedral stands as an object lesson in the fine line between having a distinctive sound and just recording the same songs over and over.