64 wheel64. Catherine Wheel, Happy Days

Happy Days is the third album by the U.K. band Catherine Wheel and by most measures their most success effort. Riding the surge of interest in any alternative band that built some buzz into their sound, Catherine Wheel broke onto the Billboard albums chart for the first time (though its peak of #163 hardly reaches sensation status) and had a couple modest modern rock radio hits. One of those tracks, “Judy Staring at the Sun,” featured guest vocals from Tanya Donelly during the very thin sliver of time when the Belly frontwoman had enough prominence to nab a Rolling Stone cover, even if the publisher all but disavowed that particular choice when it proved to be a notably unpopular issue on newsstands. Catherine Wheel was slotted into the shoegaze category, which seemed to creatively towards different, more commercially-appealing sounds in an effort to escape the pigeonholing. Beyond little flares, it didn’t seem to work, and they remained one of the also-rans of the new rock alternative boomlet. There were two more albums after Happy Days, then the band announced a hiatus somewhere around 2000. Unlike some of their brethren, they haven’t been back since, though there seems to be occasional water-testing with the odd posh reissue that seems somewhat out of sorts with the band’s actual impact and influence.

63urge

63. Urge Overkill, Exit the Dragon

During the time I was toiling at the commercial alternative station, I didn’t understand why we didn’t play more Urge Overkill. Sure, we indulged in the Neil Diamond cover that was easily the band’s biggest hit (their only song to cross into the Billboard Hot 100) entirely by virtue of its prominent inclusion in the film Pulp Fiction, and the success of that track in turn gave our programmers the wherewithal to go back and retrieve “Sister Havana” from band’s exceptional 1993 album, Saturation. Selfishly, I wanted more, and I was especially disheartened when Exit the Dragon arrived to practically no interest. I quickly resigned myself to the notion that bands I loved would make no headway on our station (that copy of Too Much Joy’s …finally that showed up in 1996 wasn’t going to leave the Music Director’s desk until the fateful moment when it was deemed old and insignificant enough to be transferred to one of the cardboard boxes stuffed full of unloved CDs down in the basement), but Urge Overkill struck me as close enough to the hard rock sound that dominated our airwave that they should have been able to rub shoulders with the likes of Bush. I’ll admit that a fresh listen to Exit the Dragon puts a few dents in my certainty on that topic.

I remember liking Exit the Dragon quite a bit when it came out, but now it sounds a little muddled to me, as if the band wasn’t really sure what direction they wanted to go in but felt compelled to charge ahead anyway. I’m not inclined to fault a band for ambition, trying to expand their sound and explore different avenues, but a lot of the material on Exit the Dragon feels like it needs another pass or two. “The Break” has a nice Stonesy vibe, especially at the beginning, but its lacking the discipline needed to wrangle it into a tight, satisfying track. Similarly, the easygoing groove of “Somebody Else’s Body” is all drift, no charge. Still, there are times when the very qualities that I find lacking indicate the validity of my original point: this should have been a bigger album in 1995, when the plodding pace and grinding whine vocals of “Honesty Flies” make the band sound like Candlebox or someone. It’s a close enough match to the crud that was gunking up our playlists that I’m somewhat surprised Geffen Records didn’t go all in with the track as a single, complete with a music video of Urge Overkill walking around with anguished faces while being shot with heavy sepia-toned filters.

There are places where the band’s sonic meanderings work better, and not always because they stuck with what they traditionally did best. Yes, “Take Me” has just enough glam rock eyeliner smudge to it to make it sound like something that could have been pulled from an earlier album, but “View of the Rain” is a nicely cheesy ballad (“I don’t smile anymore/ Too many smiling faces lie”) that circles around bombastic without ever quite landing there. I don’t recall the band doing anything quite like it on earlier albums. “Last Night/Tomorrow” is even better, riding a splendid varying tempo that makes the song feel like it can veer off in any direction at any time. It’s exactly the right brand of unpredictability for the band, grounded in their established artistic vernacular but invested with a dose of daring.

Exit the Dragon represented the last new music from Urge Overkill for quite some time. Founding member Eddie “King” Roesser left the band and the intention of Nash Kato and Blackie Onassis to carry on as a duo didn’t really pan out. Kato released a solo album in 2000, though the fingerprints of Onassis on several of the tracks suggest it may have started life as a true Urge Overkill project. Kato and Roesser officially reunited a few years later, and a new Urge Overkill album improbably arrived in 2011.

Previously….

An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp

30 thoughts on “College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1995, 64 and 63

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