American Culture

TunesDay: you just gotta smile…

It’s hard to think of a band that was greater for longer with less payoff than the now-defunct Catherine Wheel. From 1992’s staggering debut, Ferment, through their much (and unfairly) maligned 2000 coda, Wishville, CW gave us three brilliant records, two good ones, and an outtakes/B-sides compilation (Like Cats and Dogs) that was better than most of the best original studio efforts being released today.

Oh yeah, and a lot of insanely great (and obscenely loud) live shows. I was lucky enough to see them three times (and managed to escape without lasting nerve damage), and rate the 10-minute encore of “Black Metallic” that closed the show on the Wishville tour as one of the most outstanding moments in my nearly 30 years of live show attendance.

At no point along the way did Catherine Wheel score anything remotely like the popular response they deserved (although, to this day, I wonder if they might have been close with 1995’s Happy Days, only to get shoved aside by the similar, but inferior Bush CD, Sixteen Stone; would CW have become massive stars if only Gavin Rossdale had been slightly less pretty?) After the disappointing turn with Wishville the writing was clearly on the wall.

Dark, sad, unhappy days, as I periodically checked the band’s Web site, only to see that it hadn’t been updated…

Eventually, though, front man Rob Dickinson launched a solo career, releasing Fresh Wine for Horses in 2005. And again, the reaction was underwhelming. If you follow the rock and pop music worlds with any sort of critical eye at all, there’s nothing new about a great band getting ignored. But even knowing how fickle and fucked the music industry is, it’s still hard to fathom how an artist who’s this fame-worthy gets stonewalled.

So, try, try again. Now back with Fontana, Catherine Wheel’s original label, Dickinson has reworked Fresh Wine, added a track (the soaring “End of the World”), and also recorded a second disc featuring acoustic remakes of six CW tracks (“Black Metallic,” “Crank,” “Ma Solituda,” “Show Me Mary,” “The Nude,” and “I Want to Touch You”). The result is nothing short of stunning.

I realize that the dominant response to corporate excess these days is the “indie” ethic – music so small and faux-authentic and unambitious it’s almost embarrassing to talk about it. In that context (for a good point of reference, say you’ve been listening to too much Bright Eyes or Great Lakes Myth Society) Dickinson’s effort probably seems bombastic beyond reason. But he’s a man who has always swung for the fences, and you’ll never hear me complaining about an artist aiming too high.

As has been the case more often than not, Dickinson has again hit the ball out of the park. From anthemic moments like “My Name is Love” to quieter, more reflective offerings like “The Night,” which tonally echo the back half of CW’s last great record, 1997’s Adam and Eve, this suite of unrepentantly romantic songs promise the sun, the moon, and the stars. Some of them deliver on the promise while others … over-deliver.

A lesson for the indie crowd: authenticity isn’t about a lack of production skill or the inability to play your instrument, and quietude isn’t a substitute for maturity, depth and craftsmanship. Listen and learn.

So today S&R honors our artist of the week, Rob Dickinson, with a few clips that will hopefully make you want to explore his music further. We’ll begin with the video for “Oceans,” the lead single from Fresh Wine for the Horses.

This is a live performance of my favorite song on the disc, “End of the World.”

I think this should be S&R’s new theme song: “…you just gotta smile / and hang out with intelligent people”

Next time you need an anthem, might I recommend “My Name is Love.”

Catherine Wheel fans should appreciate this one.

What the heck – here’s the vid for CW’s original version.

One more…

Give Fresh Wine a listen – you can sample it all free at eMusic. Happy listening….

7 replies »

  1. Great article. Catherine Wheel have been a long, long-time favorite of mine. I’m going to dig some out right now.

  2. Thanks for showing my video from Monday’s show. None of the CW songs have lost anything in translation after being in a time capsule for most of the last decade. The songs with a full band were just as powerful in both volume and emotion as they were in the pre-emo era they were written in. Some actually grew in stature when played with a stark acoustic arrangement that is showcased on the bonus disc of the rerelease of Fresh Horses. The live band was killer, including Mike Eisenstein from the Boston pop group Letters to Cleo.

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