For some reason yesterday, it popped into my head to pull out Catherine Wheel’s 1997 Adam and Eve for a spin in the CD player. I had not listened to it in years, but four consecutive listens later, I am compelled to share my love of this album. I think it is because it is the missing link between classic Pink Floyd, late-era Talk Talk, and ’90s Britpop, three of my favorite genres of music. And yes, it is definitely proggy!
Adam and Eve is Catherine Wheel’s fourth proper album, following the B-sides compilation Like Cats and Dogs. Their first two, Ferment and Chrome, had most people lumping them in with the “shoegazer” crowd – as a matter of fact, many consider Ferment a founding document of shoegazing, along with My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Ride’s Nowhere. CW’s third album, Happy Days, went for a more American grunge feel and earned the band some stateside success. However, there was something unusual and intriguing stirring beneath the surface of those amped-up guitars. For one thing, there was a pronounced Pink Floyd influence (Storm Thorgerson of Hignosis fame was responsible for the art) and, even better, Tim Friese Greene and Mark Feltham from Talk Talk’s classic Spirit of Eden were on board contributing keyboards and harmonica. Eat my Dust, You Insensitive F***k sounds like a lost track from that album, with Rob Dickinson crooning in his best Hollis voice while Feltham’s harmonica shivers and shakes behind him.
So, attentive CW fans should have known something special was in the works for Adam and Eve, and the band did not disappoint. The lead track is not even listed – it is a spare acoustic blues with Dickinson singing, “Let’s get started” that immediately segues into Future Boy. The discordant opening chord recalls Talk Talk’s The Rainbow, as does the spare percussion and wide-open spacey production. Dickinson pleads with a woman that he’ll be anything she needs – “I’ll be your future boy/cos if that is what you need” – while acknowledging “A boy should know his limitations/but I’ve talked myself through less”.
Next up is the “hit” off the album, Delicious, which is a pure blast of guitar-based aural pleasure that builds and builds to a catchy chorus. Broken Nose continues the hard rock mode, with Dickinson’s vocals sounding ironically gentle while his and Brian Futter’s guitars swirl and intertwine. I love the line, “Hey you, with your public displays of pain/You’ve been painful for too long”. (A reference to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who released OK Computer the same year as Adam and Eve?)
The pace slows down with the keyboard-heavy Phantom Of The American Mother and the achingly beautiful Ma Solituda. The latter features the finest vocals of any CW song – Dickinson is an incredibly versatile singer, and on this track Futter and bassist Dave Hawes harmonize perfectly. It is followed by Satellite, another infectious rocker – it is a driving song in the best sense: it begs to be played full blast in a convertible while roaring down the highway.
To my mind, the final four tracks are an organic whole, beginning with one of the finest songs of the ’90s: Thunderbird. Here is where the Talk Talk influence is absorbed and used to full advantage. Beginning with a spare drum beat and brittle bursts of guitar, it builds to a shattering chorus that immediately pulls back into an open and sparse instrumental section.
Here Comes the Fat Controller continues the slow burn begun in Thunderbird, and it boasts these excellent lyrics: “Don’t you think the sarcasm’s a little hard to stomach/The cynicism’s boring/How do you feel/How do you feel?” Adam and Eve closes with two epics, Goodbye and For Dreaming, which, even though they are each more than seven minutes long, do not have a single wasted or superfluous note. Another unnamed acoustic track ends the album on a somber note.
Adam and Eve was the last album Mercury/Fontana Records released by Catherine Wheel, and it didn’t get much promotion. It received very positive reviews, but where Radiohead’s OK Computer has (deservedly) grown in stature year after year, A & E is slipping into oblivion. It is not even available on Spotify, and used copies are fetching hefty prices. If you come across one in a used record store, buy it! Adam and Eve is Catherine’s Wheel’s perfect amalgamation of Pink Floyd, Talk Talk, and Britpop. There’s nothing quite like it, and they never reached its heights again. It is truly a masterpiece of rock and deserves to be heard by a new generation of prog fans.