Right off the bat, Rob Dickinson knows fans of English rock quartet Catherine Wheel will be surprised by its forthcoming Fontana/Mercury album, “Happy Days.”
No, make that shocked.
“Once they sit down and listen to our three albums in a row, it’s going to make an awful lot of sense as to where we’ve arrived now,” the singer-guitarist said recently. “That’s what it’s all about, moving on. We’ve been around the world many times and you gain experiences, and music has to change as a result. There’s some development there that I’m really proud of.”
For some bands, any hint of change scares fans off, and most of it is justified (because the “new” sound just didn’t cut it), but for Catherine Wheel, “Happy Days” are here again.
Don’t let the string arrangements, blues harp, organ and the country twang of Belly’s Tanya Donelly (on the track “Judy Staring At the Sun”) send you into a frenzy. On “Happy Days” (due June 6), change is a good thing … really.
Diversity is the buzzword for Catherine Wheel – from the rhythmic intensity of “Waydown” (the first single) to “Eat My Dust You Insensitive Fuck,” an eight-minute study in dichotomy. It’s a slow-burning ballad, running contrary to its angry, full-fisted title.
“It’s something that we enjoy doing, giving people one thing and maybe underneath the surface there’s something else going on, surprising people,” Dickinson said, adding that the song came to him one day while he was bathing.
“I realized that you’re as good as you think you are at your positive moments, and I just condensed that into one explicit sentence. It’s a statement of personal glory, really, and ‘everyone else be damned.’ I think everyone feels like that at some time or another. It kind of sums up the more direct approach both musically and lyrically of the record as a whole.”
Dickinson, whose cousin Bruce was lead singer of Iron Maiden, first teamed with guitarist Brian Futter in their native Great Yarmouth, England, in the early ’90s. With a common desire to create songs, they set out to form what would become Catherine Wheel. Along the way, they added drummer Neil Sims and bassist Dave Hawes.
Louder than counterparts Blur, the Charlatans and Manchester soundalikes, the guitar-driven pop noise of Catherine Wheel’s debut ’92 album, “Ferment,” quickly became a favorite of the British music media.
But not for long. They fell from grace in England but discovered more open-minded ears in the United States. The foursome’s second album, the more turbulent “Chrome,” and the swirling single “Crank,” were tops in alternative-rock circles throughout 1993.
Since then, Dickinson said, he has no idea how Catherine Wheel is regarded back home.
“It’s been over a year since we were in England,” he said. “We spent most of the year making the new record and most of ’93 touring in America. It’s going to be entertaining to see how this is received, because I know it doesn’t fit in anywhere with what’s being heralded as fashionable in England.
“There’s an intensity to what we do and I don’t really see any other English bands doing that, and I think that’s purely going to work in our favor.”
BWF (before we forget): Catherine Wheel returned in August 1997 with its fourth album, “Adam and Eve.”