Album Review by Mark Bayross
I’m not quite sure when Norfolk four-piece Catherine Wheel acquired the definite article at the start of their name…probably around the time they ditched their affinity with the early 90s shoe-gazing scene and became a full-on rock band.
1996’s HAPPY DAYS, the calling card of this reinvention, was a whirlwind of malevolent guitars but failed to shift units here or stateside. Whereas early material like SHE’S MY FRIEND and the stunning BLACK METALLIC at least possessed the majesty to attract some critical approval, the ‘Wheel’s frontman Rob Dickinson seemed all to keen to trade it in and follow his cousin Bruce (he of Iron Maiden) to big-time arena-filling US success.
WISHVILLE marks a striking comeback, with former producer (and ex-Talk Talk man) Tim Friese-Greene behind the mixing desk, the man who, on their early albums, FERMENT and CHROME, brought a diaphanous fragility that contrasted beautifully with the band’s searing white noise of guitars.
The opening stomp-fest of SPARKS ARE GONNA FLY is a powerful statement of intent, further accentuated by the jet-propelled GASOLINE, however, the gears shift down somewhat from track four onwards (the poppy WHAT WE WANT TO BELIEVE IN). Admittedly, the stripped-down ballad ALL OF THAT is a delightful exercise in understatement, made even more impressive by the fact that it appears here in original, demo form.
However, the band doesn’t really succeed in shifting themselves out of neutral until the penultimate track, the mildly chaotic BALLAD OF A RUNNING MAN, all twisted guitars and harmonica. The closing CRÈME CARAMEL is also a winner, with all the hallmarks of Friese-Greene’s lush production: Hammond organ, jazz-inflected bass, shimmering keyboards.
The theme throughout the album, hinted at by the title, is one of assertiveness, either positive (SPARKS ARE GONNA FLY) or negative (IDLE LIFE, THE BALLAD OF A RUNNING MAN). It’s almost as if the band are frightened that the success that so eludes them will continue to do so until the end of time. Unfortunately, while this is a polished and, at times, dramatic and beautiful album, it will mark yet another failed attempt by The Catherine Wheel to reach their goal. There ain’t no justice.