Rob Dickinson- Fresh Wine For The Horses (Sanctuary)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

My Name Is Love
The Night
Intelligent People
Bathe Away
The Storm
Bad Beauty
Don't Change
Towering And Flowering

It has been over five years since the Catherine Wheel went on permanent hiatus. For the uninitiated, the British group, often mislabeled as shoegazers, delivered five remarkable and diverse albums in the 90s. Much of the soaring, feedback-soaked anthems you've heard in the last few years were doubtlessly influenced by them. Black Metallic, dubbed the "Like A Hurricane" for the 90s by NME, is the track by which the band are most remembered. The Wheel were refreshing in their ability to reinvent themselves with each album, and their quasi-conceptual Tim Friese-Greene (Talk Talk)-directed release Adam And Eve was, for this reviewer at least, the apex of a very ambitious career. After a strong final release in Wishville, with possibly the band's most aggressive radio push, the band split, presumably from a combination of exhaustion and frustration.

Catherine Wheel vocalist Rob Dickinson is the cousin of Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. The Catherine Wheel and the Iron Maiden are both medieval torture devices. Does anyone else find this as interesting as me? One can certainly argue that the music industry can be seen as a modern-day torture device, and I suspect Rob Dickinson's 5-year silence is indicative of this.

So it's summer 2005 and Rob Dickinson's solo release is unquestionably the most anticipated release in this building. Not surprisingly, Fresh Wine most resembles Catherine Wheel's Wishville release. Specifically, tracks like Idle Life, All Of That and Creme Caramel would fit seamlessly on Fresh Wine For The Horses. The majority of arrangements on Fresh Wine are much less complex than anything from the early Wheel releases, and lyrically, he still seems more aligned with the more direct messages that appeared on Wishville than the shimmering poetry and cinematic imagery of Adam And Eve. It's a more personal affair, and it resonates as such.

The opening track, My Name Is Love, kind of annoyed me the first time as it seemed lyricially vapid, but turned out to be the album's stickiest track. It's a track that sneaks up on you, with it's inexplicably catchy chorus- basically just a soaring Dickinson vocal squeezing out "My name is love" repeatedly. But it works like only a good pop song can, and there's no other explanation for it. Oceans follows with a pleasant vocals-over-acoustic guitar intro. I like the early line "As far as I can see you already bear the scars of love." Another great chorus here musically, though lyrically perhaps a bit overkill on the love-love stuff, as if Rob's getting all Hallmark on us. Again, a great tune but perhaps a little light on substance. The ballad The Night follows and it's clear we're hearing a different Rob Dickinson than we've heard before. "The night drags on, thinking of you," and "my wounds are made of love, like things you dangle for your baby," we're getting that someone has taken an arrow in the tuckus.

The brief but welcome Mutineer is a beautiful, cheeky breath, and marks a changing of gears on Fresh Wine. "Long ago we laughed at shadows, lightning crash and thunder followed us." Mutineer drifts into the first real full-on killer track, Intelligent People. With its soaring chorus, poignant lyrics and undeniable passion, this track makes a strong statement about the album. There is nothing jaded about Fresh Wine For The Horses. The wisdom of "Arise my son, seek out good souls because they will be the ones" is cogent, but rarely expressed in rock songs.

Handsome is the track that most recalls Catherine Wheel at their finest. The opening barrage quickly falls away, revealing Dickinson's stark voice, then returns as a layered assault of guitar. The "If that is the way you feel" is meant to make the hair stand on your back, and it succeeds. The little Boys Of Summer guitar thing is nostalgic, and I love the line "I follow mudslides in my head." Bathe Away follows and is a fantastic, funky, serpent. The crunchy guitar and lurching drums and keys pace the song in a unique way. The spoken "there's nothing sweet to eat" is arresting, and the track simply sounds unlike anything Dickinson has done before. The heavy The Storm closes out the middle third of the disc with a resounding guitar-god echo across the hills.

Fresh Wine For The Horses has an interesting continuity- from the early love songs and ballads, through the heavier and more rhythmic middle third, and finally closing with the pensive simplicity of Bad Beauty and Don't Change. Don't Change has a show-stopping harmonica solo that both recalls Adam and Eve at its finest. The disc closes on the massive and aptly-titled Towering and Flowering, with its barrage of guitars like an avalanche over the drifting vocals, and the Coldplaylike riffing on the outro. Listening to this disc in its entirety is truly a musical journey. An untracked and longer version of Mutineer is added at the end, with a full chorus, a nice touch.

Dickinson's music has always been grounded in layers and they are definitely here, albeit more simplified and deeper into the disc. I believe the key to enjoying Fresh Wine, at least for Catherine Wheel fans, will be in not searching for something that was not intended. For some. it will be difficult to take this release on it own terms, to accept what is essentially a singer-songwriter release from an artist who was previously grounded in musical complexity. Taken on its own terms, Fresh Wine is brazen and magical, direct in its emotion and refreshingly honest. It is as cathartic a listen as I suspect it was to create.

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