At this point in history I think it would be difficult to find many people who would exclude Radiohead’s OK Computer from a list of the best albums of 1997. I’d also wager that more than 70 percent of those lists would have OK Computer in the number 1 position. Few will argue that OK Computer is an album that will be listened to for decades to come. By 2000, Radiohead was basking in the glow of their fantastic follow-up album, Kid A, and were pretty well set up as one of the biggest bands in the world.
At the same time, another UK band, Catherine Wheel, was calling it quits. In 1997, Catherine Wheel also released an album, Adam and Eve. Like OK Computer, Adam and Eve was lauded by long-time fans and critics as the band’s masterpiece. Prior to this release, Catherine Wheel was known for their guitar-heavy shoegaze albums, particularly from their debut, Ferment, and its heavier follow-up, Chrome. Adam and Eve, the band’s fourth album, signaled a bold, exciting shift in the band’s sound, much like Radiohead’s leap from The Bends to OK Computer.
Catherine Wheel and Radiohead’s music followed similar trajectories in the 1990s. Both bands had highly successful debut records with big singles; Radiohead had “Creep” and Catherine Wheel had “Black Metallic.” Those debuts were followed by sophomore albums, The Bends and Chrome, respectively, which saw both bands brushing off a bit of the fuzz from their sound and pumping up the guitars. Catherine Wheel open Chrome with the thunderous “Kill Rhythm,” probably the closest shoegaze ever came to arena rock. Radiohead’s most popular track from The Bends was “Fake Plastic Trees,” which was one of the mellower tracks on the album. While The Bends was a great album it was clear that Radiohead needed a new direction or they would surely fade out.
1997 arrives and both bands release albums that take their sounds in dramatic new directions. With OK Computer, Radiohead embraced a more atmospheric, dark, futuristic sound. Adam and Eve saw Catherine Wheel use their guitar-driven shoegaze roots to enthusiastically embrace giant pop hooks and soaring melodies that are nothing shy of anthemic. While OK Computer allows the listener to float about its world, Adam and Eve pushes the listener through brick walls and everyone ends up laughing with joy at the end. It’s a strange experience, but Adam and Eve is exhilarating. “Satellite,” “Goodbye,” “Delicious,” and “Ma Solituda” are all great tracks. There really are no bad songs on the album.
Both Adam and Eve and OK Computer were well received by critics and the fans of both bands loved the albums. But Adam and Eve went nowhere and OK Computer became a fixture of 90s music – and has remained an important album nearly 20 years later. Many have said that Adam and Eve was Catherine Wheel’s OK Computer. The truth is Adam and Eve could have been OK Computer. It had all the elements of a huge hit, yet today the record isn’t even in print. In fact, if you use Amazon as the authority, only the band’s first two albums, Ferment and Chrome, are still available.
So, what happened? Why Radiohead and not Catherine Wheel? Maybe people were ready for something really different and new. OK Computer fit that bill more readily than Adam and Eve. Maybe Catherine Wheel didn’t have a grandiose persona that was certainly necessary to make a splash in the late 90s music scene. It’s tough to say for sure. In the end, all we can do is hope that this gem is discovered by enough new fans that it will eventually be elevated to the level it deserves (and perhaps be listed on Amazon!). Please find this album and listen to it often, and when you do, revel in the knowledge that you’re hearing a band at their very best. The album is a masterpiece that is certainly worthy of filing near your copy of OK Computer.