Volume 93, Issue 99

Wednesday, April 5, 2000


El Dorado worth the journey

Catherine Wheel rolls with punches

A Heartbreaking Work lives up to its name

Formula doesn't always succeed

Catherine Wheel rolls with punches

Photo by Jon Hale
"RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD..." Catherine Wheel's Rob Dickinson, in no way singing a happy song, rocks out during a summer festival.

By Pamela Chelin
Gazette Writer

"And now the sparks are gonna fly/cause I'm turned on again" – so sings Rob Dickinson, lead singer of what is perhaps the most underrated British band around, Catherine Wheel.

"I've got a new attitude," he boasts from his home in Suffolk where he's preparing for a small North American promotional tour. "And it's optimism."

If any band deserves to be cynical about the music industry, it's Catherine Wheel. Even after hits such as "Black Metallic" and "Waydown," as well as touring with the likes of Radiohead, Live and PJ Harvey, Catherine Wheel has never gotten their just desserts.

"We've always been compared to bands like Oasis, The Verve and Radiohead, but we've never had their kind of success," Dickinson sighs. "We've never had the promotion from our record companies that [those] other bands have had. We were never a priority like [them]."

With any luck, this is all about to change.

Now signed to Columbia/Sony, Catherine Wheel feel they finally have access to the missing element necessary to propel them to superstar status. "Sony understands our music more than any other company," Dickinson says. "And it's about time, because we've certainly paid our dues."

When Catherine Wheel released their critically acclaimed fifth record, 1997's Adam and Eve, it didn't propel the band into the mainstream as they had hoped. Dickinson took it hard.

"After Adam and Eve, I was beating myself up and I was really low," he says. "I was at a loss and didn't know where the band was and didn't know where to start in terms of writing – nothing was good enough. And if you have had success with a formula, it is easier to get away with it every time, but we've never been a band that has a formula. We make artistically challenging, varied records."

Instead of trying to write new material from a dark and uncomfortable place, Dickinson decided to take a break and realign himself. "I got away for a while and when I came back, everything just fell into place. The songs started coming and I was writing lots of songs with the best frame of mind that I've been in for 10 years."

This positive frame of mind is reflected in the album's title, Wishville. "Wishville is about getting to a better place, hoping for better things and it's about blinking into the daylight," Dickinson says. "This record is the best we can do and it's got all the elements that make it a pure Catherine Wheel record – full of heart and soul."

Produced by Tim Friese Green (Talk Talk) and recorded in Elvis Costello's studio, Wishville should keep Catherine Wheel's rabid fan base satisfied. The fans are so loyal that despite a three year stretch of inactivity, they have continually kept the group alive on the internet through the band's official email list and web site.

Essentially, Wishville is a commentary on life. It explores themes of love, loss, making peace with our demons and obsession. But only Dickinson, who can go from a scream to a whisper with ease, can sing about obsession such that it elicts a listener's sympathy.

On the album's second track, "Gasoline," where the words "Here comes the rush again/Let me down easy," are repeated, the listener is reminded of their own personal moments of heartbreak and is inevitably compelled to sing along. "Yes," Dickinson agrees, laughing. "'Gasoline' is about infatuation. It's an urban love song."

True to their varied form, there seems to be something for everyone on Wishville. Anyone with a record collection including My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, The Verve and Radiohead would agree that Wishville easily belongs.

Set to release the record on May 23, Catherine Wheel is currently on a small promotional tour in North America, but will return for a full tour once the record is officially released. There is no doubt the live experience will enhance the record even more, as Catherine Wheel are extreme perfectionists who have been known to soundcheck for two hours before a show to ensure a perfect sound.

It looks like Catherine Wheel is ready to spin once more. Undaunted by industry setbacks, they have become an energized outfit and a happier band. Much like Dickinson sings on "Sparks Are Gonna Fly," Catherine Wheel are learning to roll with the punches – "I have a good idea/What breaks you makes you shine."


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Copyright The Gazette 2000