Catherine Wheel

Fontana, 1992


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


A recent review of forgotten ‘90s band Inspiral Carpets inspired me to seek out another lost ‘90s group, Catherine Wheel, who was part of the shoegaze boom of the early ‘90s and released four albums between 1992 and 2000. Outside of “Black Metallic,” there’s not much footprint for this band anymore, likely because they were lumped in with other similar bands in the public conscious.

Shame, really. Ferment is a glorious exercise of noise, with the wall-of-sound approach that was in vogue at the time (think My Bloody Valentine and Lush) coupled with some very good twin guitar work and a fine rhythm section. It may be a cliché, but some records are easy to get lost in, creating a sound and atmosphere that you don’t wish to leave. Ferment is such a disc, not so much a collection of killer songs as it is a sonic experience worth taking.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Rob Dickinson and Brian Futter are knockout guitar players, working in tandem with producer Tim Friese-Green to draw in the listener. You’re hooked immediately from “Texture” and the sound of “I Want To Touch You,” although the repetitive lyrics in the latter seem like placeholders that were never rewritten. Great solo, though.

“Black Metallic” parlays its Gothic love-song overtones into a song that’s actually about cars (“your skin is black metallic”), which makes more sense, and although it drones on just a bit too long during the instrumental bridge portion, it’s as good as anything else here. “Indigo Is Blue” features some of the best singing here and, like “Touch You,” a good solo. One thing these noise-rock bands rarely featured was guitar solos, in what I assumed was a conscious move in the ‘90s away from cock-rock shenanigans of the last 20 years, so anytime you find one it’s a welcome sight.

“She’s My Friend” is a cheerful sonic assault that brings in a strong Madchester influence, like the Carpets and Stone Roses, and I’m surprised it wasn’t a bigger hit. “Shallow,” meanwhile, is a bit less wall-of-noise; together with “Friend,” they hint at the range this band had and why they disliked the shoegaze tag. There’s also a strong Cranberries vibe here too, albeit on a grander scale, such as on the very good “Bill And Ben” and “Black Metallic.”

If there’s a knock on the album, it’s that the noise tends to obscure the dynamics such that telling the tracks apart becomes difficult. The forest may be lovely while you’re lost in it, but once on the other side, you can’t distinguish one dark oak tree from another, which perhaps is why the band never really caught on stateside. The middle third of the disc, from the title track through “Flower to Hide” and “Tumble Down,” also fails to excite.

It may be difficult for non-‘80s underground and ‘90s rock aficionados to get into this album, but for those into that scene, it’s well worth digging this out when you have an hour and nowhere to be.

Rating: B

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