[sic] Magazine

Catherine Wheel – Adam And Eve (1997)

“Spaceship days
when you and I were young”

Catherine Wheel emerged from the shoegazeing scene of the early nineties. It was a genre into which they never quite fit. Geographically they were out of sync, originating from East Anglia instead of the Thames Valley hub of the “scene that celebrated itself”. More accurately, shoegazing didn’t quite fully fit them. Stylistically Catherine Wheel were quick to move forwards. They were constantly 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 studio album and their last for the Fontana label – a point we’ll return to later. If I were to declare Adam and Eve their “best” I would risk civil war amongst the hardcore following, 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 petrolhead associations Dickinson was evidently 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 itself plays like a car journey. From a spluttering beginning Adam And Eve quickly moves through the gears. The opening 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 hovers 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. “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.

Were it in the hands of another band, ‘Delicious’ might be the standout track. It still carries that air of ‘classic single’. ‘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.

We’ve gone from 0 to 60 in 3.5 songs but how about top gear? Adam And Eve will cruise from here on in. It is a thrill ride – but an an effortless one. The hooks keep coming. ‘Fat Controller’, ‘Satellite’….how good is ‘Satellite’ btw? What a riff! 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. And what a voice Rob Dickinson has. Unique and instantly recognisable his vocal is a Box Cutter wrapped in silk, so smooth, yet so dangerous. Lyrically as well the man plays our heartstrings just as masterfully. I often find that the difference between good 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 and all of his pre-millennial paranoia’s.

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. Just let that sink in for a moment. Someone listened to this and then dropped the band. It’s beyond my comprehension. Do these people have cloth ears? Even setting aside (questionable) personal taste couldn’t they see what they had? Adam And Eve is a masterpiece – lush, intricate and polished but never overproduced. This is one of the albums of the decade. Whoever decided to let go of Catherine Wheel ought to hang their head in shame. I shouldn’t really be surprised. It feels as though they messed up the brilliant Cocteau Twins. Why not Catherine Wheel too? More sinister, perhaps, is the rumour surrounding the Rolling Stone review of Adam And Eve. As I understand it, the album got an initial 4.5 star write up only for this to be reduced to 3 stars. The words “the”, “what?” and “f*ck” 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. We get the epic, climactic ‘For Dreaming’ before Adam And Eve stutters and stalls (again quite deliberately) on ‘(Outro)’, with 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 piano to Adam And Eve but to be honest I have to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t the actual producer of the album. (That was Bob Ezrin) 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 helped to spawn post-rock. ‘Thunderbird’ is probably Adam and Eve’s strongest example of this. (Not Catherine Wheels overall which has to be Happy Days‘ ‘Eat My Dust………….’) In truth the whole album flickers and shimmers with sonic intricacies. Had the songs been weak, the production would still have made this a good listen. As it happens, the songs were brilliant and Ezrin added a bit of extra sparkle.

1997 was an exceptional year for music with standout records from Radiohead, Spiritualised, Yo La Tengo and The Verve amongst many others. Most critics plumped for OK Computer as their pick of the year. It is the album credited with making progressive rock fashionable again. I like OK Computer, dear readers. It may not be my favourite of Radiohead but I do rate it. Adam And Eve though, just speaks more to the heart than to the brain. You don’t stroke your chin listening to this, you punch the air. That is why I play Adam And Eve twenty times more often than OK Computer. For me Catherine Wheel were the most interesting band of that decade. If Adam And Eve is not their best album, (you’ll decide) it is certainly my personal favourite. All killer and no filler, I never tire of listening to it. If you don’t know this record already and you’re about take your first spin, I envy you, I truly do.

Enjoy. And thanks for reading.

~Rob Dickinson released the solo album Fresh Wine For the Horses in 2005. Futter and Sims formed 50 ft Monster.~

Rob Dickinson

50ft Monster