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Boston Globe Newspaper, Fall, 1997

by John Anderman

Unpredictable as music fans' tastes and industry trends may be, it's hard to imagine Catherine Wheel falling through the cracks. Massive guitar sonics combined with warm melodies have won the seven-year-old British quartet a devoted following, but never a mainstream breakthrough.

Enter "Adam & Eve", Catherine Wheel's fourth CD. The band has shed decibels and density like a snake sloughing a worn sheath of skin, and emerges anew with a masterful (and, with any luck, career-making) collage of glistening, blistering art-core rock.

At Avalon, a backdrop of banners featured blowups of the CD cover art: discreet photos of a naked man and woman, each compressed into a series of tiny boxes, suggesting the album's themes: modern day man and woman, no garden, no deity, in a really tight spot. The band meandered onstage to a layered melange of recorded bits of dialogue, thick chunks of buzz and fizz, and overamped piano samples. Then came a sudden, Pink Floyd-like drop off the edge of the noise into a serene void filled only with the sound of acoustic slide guitar and singer-guitarist Rob Dickinson's gorgeous vocals on the album's nameless introductory track. The crowd, which spilled over into the walkways behind the main room, was swept away, and for good reason.

Catherine Wheel bows to the alter of Pink Floyd's six-string heroics and epic dynamics. Thankfully, that inspiration is woven respectfully into the contemporary fabric of songs like "Future Boy", a spacewalk through the shifting dimensions of sound-woody guitar laced with harmonica, revving motorcycles, razor-sharp slices of flying sonic ice - that unfolded on stage with as much heart and soul as technical bravado.

While screaming/dreaming guitars and visceral moods launched songs like, "Phantom of the American Mother" and "Here Comes the Fat Controller", radio friendly hooks anchored the soundscapes on the blaring, harmonied "Satellite" (very Pacific Coast Highway) and "Delicious", a meaty bite of stream-of-consciousness pop (very oxymoronic). It's precisely that earth-moving marriage of aggressively artful ambiance and head-bopping hummability that lifts Catherine Wheel above the comparatively bloodless offerings of fellow spacerockers Spiritualized and Blur.

"Broken Nose", a walk down the wicked path of least resistance that leads quickly and painlessly (and, unfortunately, mindlessly) to a Big Sturdy Rock Song, was the weak link of the evening, all minor, churning chords, bashing drums, and achingly familiar melody. Even ultracharismatic Dickinson - whose appeal has nothing to do with attitude or pose and everything to do with seductive phrasing and natural idiosyncracies that make a great pop singer - couldn't save it.

Catherine Wheel culled a few gems from earlier albums. "Crank", from 1993's "Chrome", was a gasket-blowing collision of bitter and sweet. The iron-fisted, android sex-fantasy "Black Metallic" pointed up perfectly the band's arc from the Day-Glo brawn of their 1992 American debut, "Ferment," to the shinning sparkle of "Adam & Eve."

For the opening set, Brit rockers Geneva navigated murky stylistic waters with punky pop tunes, metal dirges, campy rock operas, and Freddy Mercury-meets-Bono vocal bombast.

Note: "Adam & Eve" is Catherine Wheel's fifth release, but some reviewers do not count "Like Cats and Dogs," because it is a compilation of b-sides. I, of course, have an opinion on this. I believe "Like Cats and Dogs" is as good as any other Catherine Wheel release, which makes it far better than most other bands' best material. I count it as a "real" release. And for the record, "Broken Nose" is tied with "Ma Solituda" as my favorite song on Adam & Eve. Hrrmphh!

Catherine Wheel may not be mainstream (yet), but they've got plenty of fans. Some of us have joined together to form a web ring of CW-related pages. Just click the appropriate part of the picture below, and you're off to another CW (Cool Web) site! Is that convenient or what?

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