Right from their first album, this Yarmouth quartet blew the doors off the maze of post-My Bloody Valentine shoegaze guitar bands by going back to older UK outfits such as the House of Love (whom they covered) and especially the gigantic crushing beauty of the early Comsat Angels.
Containing remakes of two songs from each of the band’s early EPs, Ferment gained the Catherine Wheel a solid foothold in the US with “I Want to Touch You,” which has a repeating, echoed guitar line that digs in like nails in your back, and “Black Metallic,” which builds, quiets and percolates like Echo and the Bunnymen, complete with a devastating tremolo-pan guitar solo. With soaring choruses and producer Tim Friese-Greene’s shimmering textures, the entire album — both delicate and demonstrative — sparkles and smolders.
Pixies producer Gil Norton toughened the sound on Chrome, an album that combines songwriting prowess with more raging playing, pop tunes gone kablooey and a huge bonfire sound with a faint metal edge. Rob Dickinson (whose cousin Bruce was the vocalist of Iron Maiden) sings as if to choke on his words but never loses the gritty determination of his and Brian Futter’s guitars. Amidst the delicious fallout, Catherine Wheel mixes in more quiet, moody tracks (the resplendent “The Nude,” “Fripp”); the single “Crank” is as spindly as it is catchy. No sophomore slump here.
Happy Days, also produced by Norton, is an even more monstrous bomb drop. The metallisms are more pronounced, but don’t mar the album’s mindboggling assault. Huge shards of guitar and furious, pounding bass drums dominate, implying the intelligent onslaught of bands like Nirvana and Sugar. Highlighted by the blistering single “Waydown” and the crushing, string-bending “Empty Head,” the album is a restless, passionate emotional overload. The first half favors hyper rev-ups; the second is more playful and includes “Judy Staring at the Sun,” a sweet duet by Dickinson and Tanya Donelly. Best song title: “Eat My Dust You Insensitive Fuck.”