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DotMusic.com, Fall, 1997
Riding the wave of US acclaim
|Released||NOV 24/Feb 1998|
While many had presumed Catherine Wheel had enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame when shoe gazing was the rage, the British band have finally found their feet in the US with their fifth album. Adam & Eve has been nudging the top of America's College Chart for the past month, and breached the Billboard Top 200 when it was released in August (it has soundscanned around 70,000 records to date). Rolling Stone magazine heaped praise on the release and hailed them as a new Pink Floyd, while its website declared it album of the year.
But until now, ahead of the UK release of a blistering new single Delicious, they remain relatively unknown at home. According to manager Merck Mercuriadis, the disparity in Catherine Wheel's transatlantic popularity manifested itself for two reasons. First, the team responsible for signing them at Mercury in Britain left the company and their successors' strategy was wait and see what happened in America. Second, Catherine Wheel were receiving strong radio support in the US and they were committed not only to picking up on that support through touring, but to making capital as well.
Mercuriadis says, "When we went to America five years ago we spent something like $150,000 in tour support. We knew if we went once every two years it would be like starting from scratch again and we'd be looking to make another investment of that size, so we toured every year. By the fourth year we were breaking even, playing to an average audience of 1,500-2,000 a night. We've just done a 40-show tour: 25 were sold out and 13 were 80% full or better."
The downside of all this groundwork was that it came at the expense of their UK profile. Singer Rob Dickinson says, "We felt like England was slipping away and we felt it was vital that we clawed back some status. We saw ourselves as a new band, viewing the record as a fresh start musically and we thought we needed a fresh start in this country if anyone was going to do the record justice." Mercuriadis offered the band to Chrysalis in the UK, a label who looked after another of his charges, Feline.
Chrysalis managing director Mark Collin, who had never previously been a fan, admits to a few reservations about the band's past, but was immediately enthused by their new music. He feels certain they will crossover following the ground broken by the likes of The Verve and Radiohead. "I think rock with a small 'r' is making a comeback. Epic soundscapes are not dirty words anymore," he says.
Catherine Wheel showed they were more than capable of living up to such plaudits on stage last week when they played Islington's Union Chapel in London. The measured performance was a far cry from their previously cranked-to-the-max gigs and testament to a record that explores previously uptapped aspects of the band's sonic range. Dickinson says, "We know inside out how to use guitars very loudly. This time around we pushed the limits of playing quietly."
He adds that the album had nothing to do with second guessing trends but was born from the desire to make a record which was from the heart. "I expect all sort of flak, from lowest common denominator Bush comparisons to lowest common denominator Radiohead comparisons," he says. "The irony for me is that Black Metallic (former single) was ignored in this country, as [Radiohead's] Creep was initially. It was picked up by [Los Angeles radio station] KROQ and became the biggest radio hit of 1992-3. Maybe our biggest mistake was not rereleasing it in the UK."
Further musical comparisons with Radiohead are specious, but even if Catherine Wheel were attempting to climb on the back of their success it would only be fair - they remember a time when the Oxford band were supporting them.