Fresh Wine For The Horses
tep right up! Now presenting a breakneck history of Rob Dickinson’s erstwhile band Catherine Wheel, in handy album-centric format; Ferment: drank from the forbidden well of shoegaze, Chrome: raged against the after-effects and dropped a few swirls, Happy Days: tried to rock (with mixed results), Like Cats & Dogs: strangely forgot to include all the best b-sides, Adam & Eve: embraced Floydisms and Tim Friese-Greene, Wishville: fairly limp. Rumours of a Dickinson solo project seemed to appear almost immediately after the drift into pretty-much-split-up-actually band non-activity and, five years later, here we are. But what on god’s swirly earth does it sound like?
Well, it’s better than Wishville, so breath a collective sigh of relief for that. Unfortunately, it can’t touch Adam & Eve or Chrome either. A passing citizen, perambulating past the entrance from whence I was blasting out this album was heard to remark; “this is a bit middle-of-the-road pop isn’t it?” Alas, he wasn’t far wrong.
Said comment was made over the decidedly generic stylings of “My Name is Love,” an identikit tune awash with airbrushed FM-radio-friendly guitar licks, some ivory-damaging piano chords and Mr. Dickinson’s soaring falsetto—which remains undeniably potent. In the end the sheer weight of forcible uplift just about shines through, despite an occasional peep beneath the lid of the forbidden box of lyrics that time forgot (“When everything seems so tough / My name is love,” oh Rob, has it come to this?) Anyway, that’s ‘the single’, so it’s allowed to be something of ‘a cheesefest’.
Questionable lyrics never stood out quite so much during the Wheel days, possibly because attention was often being drawn by the beautiful swooshing cacophony emanating from the direction of the rest of the band—most obviously, from Brian Futter’s evident pedal addiction. Perhaps not a huge surprise, then, that the two tracks to feature a near-reunion of the old gang provide the most satisfying moments. Whether “The Storm” and “Towering and Flowering” were simply lifted from discarded sessions or recorded more recently, I am unaware. What matters is that they sound massive. You know you can sometimes predict almost exactly what a track will be like based purely on the title? These two are prime examples. Every bit as howling, reaching and looming as you might think.
Elsewhere, Rob indulges his ballad side. This is especially noticeable during the first half of proceedings, which features three such efforts in increasing states of undress (that last being a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer,” from a lonely dark room with a piano in it). Quite how engaging or affecting these are will probably depend upon their potential resonance with events in your life. A certain phrase, passing by the ears of others without pause, may pierce the heart with memories of a distant lover. A gentle chord; the night you first met. Or the last you ever spoke. The existence of these personal hooks, or the lack of them, are the only measure.
However, despite the remainder being far from shabby (“Don’t Change” has a valiant stab at being this album’s “Phantom of the American Mother,” and there’s much to love about the bombastic “Handsome”), the shadow cast by the two tracks which are Catherine Wheel in all but name is ever-present. Regardless of the practicalities or likelihood of a full reunion, the mind does wander; dreams are formed—what was so nearly grasped during the first incarnation could be snatched at the second attempt. As a pre-meal tipple, Fresh Wine for the Horses holds up fine. I’m left hoping that it will complement a follow-up feast.