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Billboard Magazine, July, 1997
Mercury's Catherine Wheel Gets Thematic With "Adam & Eve"
Los Angleles-When Catherine Wheel vocalist/songwriter Rob Dickinson finished mixing the band's forthcoming Mercury release, "Adam and Eve" in February, he decided to preview the album for a few people.
The artist, who was staying at the Sunset Marquis in W. Hollywood, staged an impromptu listening party in the hotel's conference room for approximately 60 fans, whom he invited via the internet.
Dickinson says the meeting turned out to be the perfect way to introduce the the album preceeding its August 26 release date.
"It was like road testing [the album] to those people who were best suited to appreciate it or not," he says. "We were proud that they bothered to come, and the record seemed to go over very well. It just felt like the start of something good."
Mercury, too, is confident that Adam and Eve will create a renewed excitement for the modern rock act.
Though the band's last four albums have sold a combined total of more than 268,000 units according to Soundscan, and the act's 1995 album, "Happy Days" was highly praised by critics, it has yet to make a mainstream breakthrough.
That, according to Mercury VP of marketing (US) Marty Maidenberg, could change soon.
"This album is more of an album from start to finish...Each song can be taken on its own merit, but the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts...It combines the best of what they've done in the past with a new direction."
Maidenberg's point is well evidenced by the album's thematic and musical continuity. Many songs segue into the next with ethereal, instrumental interludes or subdued sound effects.
Meanwhile, like the album's title suggests, much of its lyrical content deals with the plight of fallen man.
"A lot of it is about temptation and lust and where that leaves the modern man, but it also considers friendship and childhood memories and disappointment and many experiences that are reasonably close to each other," says Dickinson. "We had a good year to make this record, and the luxury of time allowed us to get to know all the songs intimately and which ones would work sympathetically together.
"Comparing it to 'Happy Days' which was a more disparate collection of songs, we set out on this project to make an album in the classical sense of the word," he adds. "Last year I was listening to various albums by Leonard Cohen, and I would look up and 45 minutes had gone by. I couldn't remember the last time a contemporary rock album did that for me."
The band's admiration for Pink Floyd - it performed a cover of "Wish You Were Here" on the Catherine Wheel rarities album "Like Cats and Dogs" - is also evident, though Dickinson says the influence of executive Bob Ezrin ("The Wall" and "Division Bell") was ancillary.
"Bob described his role as 'setter of standard,'" said Dickinson. "He made sure that we were achieving the heights we were capable of, and he was overjoyed with some of the sound effects we used, but he certainly wasn't foisting those on us."
To highlight and take advantage of the album's fluidity, Mercury has scheduled a series of showcases where Catherine Wheel will perform the album in its entirety, followed by a greatest hits encore that will likely include "Black Metallic," "Judy Staring at the Sun" and "Crank."
Maidenberg says the shows, which will kick off Aug 25th in New York, will be tied into a contest on the band's World Wide Web site that will allow fans a chance to win admittance to the shows.
Dickinson, who admits to a dislike of long performances, says playing the entire album may provide a special challenge to audience and band, quipping, "If people fidget too much, we'll revert to our cover of 'More than a Feeling.'"
The group, which is booked by ICM and managed by London-based Sanctuary Music Group, will segue into a four week club tour following the showcase dates.
While the strength of the album is its cohesion, that element could also provide minor problems in the future.
As only the first and last tracks clock in at under 5 minutes, Maidenberg says, the label will service a radio edit of the band's first single "Delicious."
Still, he says, future tracks will not necessarily be trimmed. "You have to give the material a little time to percolate," says Maidenberg. "The songs take a little longer than usual to get, but that's why the payoff is so big."
Indeed, the band is in rare form with a remarkable blend of gorgeous, melancholic drifters such as "Future Boy" and "Ma Solituda" and the quicker paced, but equally affecting, "Broken Nose."
On "Delicious" the group also made an inspired decision to include vocals by Cecillia Thompson. Dickinson says that he planned on adding female vocals to the song while mixing the track at Bryan Adams' studio in Vancouver.
During a serendipitous moment in the studio, Dickinson was introduced to Adams' girlfriend, Thompson, who agreed to perform on the track.
The album will be serviced to college radio July 7, followed by the single which will be shipped to modern rock and mainstream rock August 4.
To reacquaint listeners and programmers with the act, Mercury shipped "Before Adam and Eve," a promo-only greatest hits compilation to college radio June 20.
The label will also pay special attention to indie retailers, where the band has typically fared well.
Referencing the past has also been an advantage in fine tuning Mercury's sales plan. Maidenberg says the label was "off base" when it shipped 120,000 units of "Happy Days." That album has sold more than 80,000 units, according to Soundscan.
This time, the label will begin with a more conservative initial shipment of 50,000 units, which is expected to cover the band's core fan base.
In fact, the act's popularity with its loyal and relatively large core has been essential in its longevity.
David Wentworth, music buyer for Newbury Comics, says that Catherine Wheel continues to be a reliable and steady seller in times of inconsistent sales.
"They are one of those bands that always keeps going along," he says. "If one record doesn't break them, it's not over. There will always be enough people out there buying Catherine Wheel records to keep them employed."
While the band continues to be a draw here, it has never achieved equal success in its home market. As a result, the label will emphasize breaking the act in the US.
Says Maidenberg, "With the ups and downs of styles and trends in the UK, we feel that they will fit better in the States, where credibility counts and there are stations that have an affinity for them."
Dickinson agrees, crediting US audiences with helping the act sustain itself and develop its sound outside the confines of its home market.
"If we had based our careers on surviving in Great Britain and conforming to the vagaries of Brit pop, the band wouldn't be the crazy thing that it is at the moment," says Dickinson. "What inspires us about America is that you can get away with anything if it's good. In England, good doesn't even enter into it. It's more a matter of whether or not you are part of a scene or not, and I have always been determined not to let the small mindedness of the English music business screw up our band."