Picks and Pans Review: The Catherine Wheel
On opening night of The Catherine Wheel at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway last September, the audience cheered Twyla Tharp and the dancers who had performed her complicated, symbol-freighted choreography. But the whole house didn't rise to its feet and whoop until tall, skinny David Byrne—looking, in his dark suit and string tie, as if he had just stepped off a river-boat—edged onstage and shyly waved his hand. It'll be awhile before there's an opportunity to reevaluate Tharp's perplexing dance, but the release of this disc at least affirms the crowd's response to the head Talking Heads' 11-song, 73-minute score. (The title refers to the spiked wheel on which Saint Catherine was martyred in the fourth century.) Rhythmically complex and layered in instrumental parts, the album's lyrics strain to evoke Tharp's murky theme of family strife and disintegration. As pure music, though, the Catherine Wheel songs show Byrne growing as a sculptor of sound. With collaborators like Brian Eno, Adrian Belew and Jerry Harrison, he uses electronics to create ravishing, discomfiting aural shapes. To help identify soloists, the credits list instruments like "Fierce and High Guitars," "Floating Guitars," "Steel Drum Guitar," "Galloping Guitar" and "Triggered Flutes." The evanescent Cloud Chamber swells and recedes and pulsates—and turns out to have been played solely on "Kitchen Metals," "Large Drum" and "Water Pot." One warning: If you want the whole wheel, you have to buy the cassette. All 11 songs are on the record, but they're nipped down from 73 to 39 minutes to fit the single disc.
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