San Diego Radio Sucks Quite A Bit

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Top 30 + 1 of the 1990s - #21 - Catherine Wheel / Chrome (1993)

Chrome (Catherine Wheel album) - Wikipedia

I think the first time I ever heard Catherine Wheel was back in 1993, shortly after Chrome had been released. I remember seeing the video for "Show Me Mary" on 120 Minutes and being immediately in love with Rob Dickenson's voice. It sounded to me as if he'd just smoked ten cigarettes made out of honey.

I went out and bought the album right away. It only takes one listen to decide if you really love or really hate this album. Catherine Wheel manages to do something that most other bands only try to do and fail - giving only a half-hearted attempt like a used car salesman's smile. What I'm talking about here is dynamics. The opening track on the record, "Kill Rhythm", starts with a driving, almost beer-mug-swinging ¾ power chord riff balanced by Dickenson's soft vocals, "Wanna fire a gun? Show me." This is a perfect example of the band's unique sneak attack: the vocals sound innocuous enough, until you listen to the words - a calm and disturbing scene all at once, like a child standing on a ladder reaching for something bright and shiny while the ladder teeters precariously.

It's rare for the area of an album that would be considered the middle of side two on the vinyl to contain the zenith, but that is exactly the case with Chrome. "URSA Major Space Station" kicks off with a serious 6/8 groove, and moves into a daring 7/8 before settling down in dance tempo only long enough for the vocals to break through the complex mesh of time signatures that continue to build right up to the last bars of the song. It is here where the final chords are held interminably, catapulting the listener and allowing them to drift off into "a special place in outer space."

This sets the stage perfectly for the aptly-named "Fripp" that follows, a long, slow-motion ballad marked by Brian Futter's flowing guitar. "There's a shark-shaped fin / In the water of my dreams / An alligator screams from the depths there / I could swim with you there," the ballad begin. The song builds slowly and quietly as the mantra "too much is not enough" repeats… as words whispered into a lover's ear.

Next, is "Half-Life," which starts with a danceable drum beat, cutting a groove that brings the listener back down to the floor and gets his or her blood pumping in a different direction. The song lingers in its rhythm until the chorus rips in, tearing a hole through the song that is soon sewed up by a return trip into pure groove. It's like riding in the backseat of a large car driven by a mental patient whose medication has started to fail.

Chrome affected me deeply and continues to do so with every listen. There can be little doubt about the purity of the emotions that went into creating this masterful blend of beautifully harsh words and intense music.

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