Catherine Wheel - Adam And Eve
By: Brett Spaceman
when you and I were young”
Catherine Wheel emerged from the shoegazeing crowd of 1990. It was a genre they never quite fitted into. Geographically they were out of sync, originating from East Anglia and not the Thames Valley hub of that “scene that celebrated itself”. More accurately, shoegazing didn’t fully fit them. Stylistically Catherine Wheel were quick to move forwards. They were evolving. By 2000’s Wishville, Catherine Wheel had left us with a legacy of five diverse studio albums as well as a compilation of b-sides which puts most other proper collections to shame. Adam And Eve was the fourth Catherine Wheel album, and last for the Fontana label, a point we’ll return to later. If I were to declare Adam and Eve their best I would be risking civil war amongst Catherine Wheel followers, such is the affection for their entire back catalogue. The debut Ferment is held particularly fondly in the hearts of many. All I can say is that when you hear Adam And Eve, whether it be the first time or the thirty first time, you’ll understand why I picked it out.
These days frontman Rob Dickinson designs sports cars. A more poetic association would be difficult to find. Of all the ‘gazer artists with driving associations (Ride, Swervedriver, etc) Dickinson was clearly the real deal. Early singles ‘Black Metallic’ and ‘Crank’ made this apparent. Both are love-letters to motoring. (Both are also stunning, essential records.) In many ways Adam And Eve plays like a car journey. From a spluttering beginning it quickly races through the gears. The opening blues-infused hillbilly wail of ‘(intro)’is a deliberate false start. True ignition comes with ‘Future Boy’, bass, keys and heavy breathing combining to exhilarating effect. This is a song that could only exist somewhere between The The and Talk Talk. There’s a terrific symmetry to that. Plus a marker is laid down for the rest of the album. Something wonderful is about to happen. “A boy should know his limitations”, Dickinson purrs, except he and his band weren’t practicing what they were preaching.
Catherine Wheel were on fire. They weren’t even out of first gear.
If you don’t remember ‘Delicious’ you might recall it when you hear it. Even if it’s new to you it still carries that air of classic. Another band and ‘Delicious’ would be the standout track. ‘Broken Nose’ will have something to say about that though. David Hawes and Neil Sims lay down a relentless, surging rhythm but it is Brian Futter’s nagging, crystalline guitar ‘call-out’ that, once heard, remains utterly unforgettable.
0 to 60 in 3.5 songs but what about top gear? Adam And Eve will cruise from here on in. It is a thrill ride – an effortless rush of an album. The hooks keep coming. ‘Fat Controller’, ‘Satellite’, even the delicate opening refrain of ‘Ma Solituda’, a busk in anyone else’s hands but a gem in Catherine Wheel’s, will give way to a soaring, heart-bursting chorus. What a voice Rob Dickinson had. Incredible. His vocal was a Stanley knife wrapped in silk, so smooth, yet so dangerous. On ‘Phantom of the American Mother’ his singing approximates someone like Guy Garvey. In truth nobody else really stands comparison. Dickinson is unique and instantly recognisable. Lyrically the guy plays our heartstrings as skilfully as he plays guitar. The difference between great lyrics and obvious ones is that they mean different things to different people. “Hey you, you with your public displays of pain. You’ve been painful for too long”; clearly means something to Rob but means something entirely different to you or I. Personally I can’t shift the image of Thom Yorke, all those affectations, all the little paranoia’s … you live in a fucking mansion house Thom!!! Get real.
DISCLAIMER: That’s my own interpretation, not Catherine Wheel’s.
Again it’s only a personal association but ‘Goodbye’ has added poignancy because of the shabby way the band were handled by Fontana. The label saw fit to drop Catherine Wheel after they delivered Adam And Eve. It’s a decision beyond my comprehension. Do these people have cloth ears? Even excepting personal tastes which differ from person to person, couldn’t they see what they had? Even purely objectively Adam And Eve is clearly a masterpiece. Lush, intricate and polished but never overproduced. Whoever decided to let go of Catherine Wheel at that moment ought to hang their head in shame. One of the albums of the decade and Fontana decided to end the relationship? I shouldn’t be surprised. They messed up the brilliant Cocteau Twins and House Of Love. Why not Catherine Wheel too? More sinister, perhaps, is the story surrounding the Rolling Stone review of Adam And Eve at the time. As I understand it, the album got an initial 4.5 stars only for this to be reduced to 3 stars. The words “the”, “what?” and “fuck” spring to mind, only not necessarily in that order. Think about it. What does that mean? What can that only mean?
Another random word for you – “corruption”.
Now you’ll understand why when Rob croons “Goodbye. I finally arrived” it hits me like a sledgehammer in the guts every time.
The ride has to end of course. Like all road trips worthy of the name we are brought back to the beginning again. Adam And Eve stutters and stalls (again quite deliberately) on ‘(Outro)’, an intoxicated Dickinson giving someone, (Fontana?, critics? everyone?) the bird.
Before I leave, it would be churlish to end any Catherine Wheel review without discussing Talk Talk and the influence of the wonderful Tim Friese-Greene. Friese-Greene adds keyboards (and harmonica?) to Adam And Eve but to be honest I have to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t the actual producer of the album. There are moments when Catherine Wheel occupied that same territory between progressive rock and ambient (almost jazz) as Talk Talk’s 1988 masterpiece, Spirit Of Eden, the album that arguably spawned post-rock. ‘Thunderbird’ is probably Adam and Eve’s strongest example of this. (Not Catherine Wheel’s which has to be Happy Days ‘Eat My Dust………….’) In truth the whole album flickers and shimmers with sonic intricacies. OK Computer is the album credited with making progressive rock fashionable again. 1997 had been an exceptional year for music with standout records from Radiohead, Spiritualised, Yo La Tengo and The Verve amongst others. Most critics plumped for OK Computer as their pick of the year. I like that record, dear readers, I do rate it, I swear to you but Adam And Eve is an album that speaks more to the heart than to the brain. That is why I play Catherine Wheel twenty times more often than Radiohead. If you don’t know Adam And Eve already but you’re about take your first spin, I envy you, I truly do. This is one of the greatest records of all time and a nailed down personal favourite that I never tire of listening to.
Rob Dickinson released the solo album Fresh Wine For the Horses in 2005. Futter and Sims formed 50 ft Monster.