Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Catherine Wheel, Chrome

Chrome is the kind of album that can end a band’s career.  It’s so good, so very good, and yet it never attracted the attention or the sales that one would expect for an album this accomplished.  The band had to Chromeknow how good it was and must have released it with great expectations.  Having those expectations dashed by a lukewarm reception can break a band’s spirit and their heart.  Catherine Wheel kept going releasing three more albums after Chrome but they never received the recognition they should have based on Chrome alone.  It’s a brilliant record.

Catherine Wheel are Rob Dickenson (guitars, vocals), Brian Futter (guitar), Dave Hawes (bass) and Neil Sims (drums).  Both Chrome and their debut album Ferment are squarely in the shoegazer genre and this may have been part of the problem.  “Shoegazer” was something of a pejoritive term coined by the UK music press for a group of bands that began to surface in the late 1980s that featured massive walls of guitar effects and feedback with vocals often unintelligible and buried deep in the mix.  Part of the ethos surrounding the music was a pronounced lack of interest in or respect for the established music press and the critics of publications like NME and Melody Maker reacted by deriding the music.  American audiences who weren’t reading the UK music press listened with more open ears and Catherine Wheel initially found more success in the US than the UK.  The UK press then castigated the band for abandoning their home audience for America.  There’s just no satisfying these guys.

Chrome features towering walls of guitar effects that make Phil Spectre’s trumpeted “wall of sound” sound like a puny thing in comparison.  Dickenson and Futter sound like an army of roaring, chiming, ringing guitar players.  One of the factors that set Catherine Wheel apart from many of their shoegaze contemporaries was that their music never abandoned harmony, melody and hooks in favor of raw guitar squall.  Their guitars are immense but they always work in service to the song.  They also have a way with discord that I don’t know if I’ve ever heard before.  The band will occasionally add a discordant guitar line to the mix but they have an uncanny way of embeding the line in a wall of guitar sound that modulates in tone in such a way that it provides a bridge between the discordant line and the melody line.  It’s as if they are providing a guided tour of how discord can arise from and be related to harmony.  It’s a very neat trick and it can serve the perpose of easing listeners who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with discordant music into an appreciation of how dissonance can be made to work musically.

Chrome was originally released in 1993 and if the 20 year nostalgia cycle holds, shoegaze will be “rediscovered” sometime in the next 5 years.  Actually, shoegaze may have jumped the gun as we are already seeing bands labeled as nu-gaze that feature big walls of guitar sound.  Whenever it happens, perhaps Catherine Wheel will finally get the recognition they deserve for Chrome.  It’s one of that small handful of albums that I’ll return to perodically through the years.  If you like good songwriting and powerful guitars, check it out.


05/13/2008 - Posted by | music


  1. An Incredible Album. CHECK IT!!!!!

    Comment by JG | 10/08/2008 | Reply

  2. CW’s, ‘Chrome’ is indeed a MASTERPIECE! Just go to Amazon.com and see 50 FLUSH 5 star reviews 4 this album! Well there is this one 4 star review but STILL! I’m not into metal but this album takes me there. If you dig Floyd Metallica & Love & Rockets this album’s 4 you!

    Comment by john | 01/03/2009 | Reply

  3. Good review – this is indeed one of the best albums no one has heard of – it has long been one of my favourites, and not
    only bears repeated replays, but improves on each listen.
    After 16 years, that takes some beating.

    For those who want instant hooks and accessibility, this is not the album – but I defy anyone to listen to this album, say five times, before dismissing it and not come away loving it.

    Loud, discordant, raucous – on first listen, it’s not easy on the ears… But – keep with it, and you’ll appreciate that there’s some serious subtlety at play here. As the reviewer explains, this is a clever trick – and not just a trick – this stuff just buries its way into your head and never leaves. It’s just brilliant – I’m hard to impress, but really, it’s brilliant.

    Like all the best music, it takes some time to sink in to the consciousness, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded many times over.

    Comment by Ade | 03/07/2009 | Reply

  4. […] Your Heart” (from When Your Heartstrings Break) 16. Catherine Wheel – “Show Me Mary” (from Chrome) 17. LCD Soundsystem – “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” (from Sound of […]

    Pingback by The “Miscellaneous” Mixes: Fin « Cousin Brandon's Mr. Hipster Blog | 06/29/2010 | Reply

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