Rob Dickinson

Fresh Wine for the Horses

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Around the time Catherine Wheel turned ten, the band dropped a bassist, added a "the" to their name, and released a turkey. When they broke up, shortly thereafter, Rob Dickinson's first solo album was only a matter of time (five years). Once the disappointment in the lack of adventure on Fresh Wine for the Horses washes away, it becomes apparent that Dickinson spent at least part of his time away becoming a sharper songwriter. Catherine Wheel songs, at their very worst, could be overwrought and insufferable, but Dickinson keeps it all in check, avoiding doe-eyed self-absorption and addressing a "you" with more frequency than ever. (Rest assured, he did not learn the latter move from Coldplay.) Structurally, this is a fairly conservative set of songs -- at least when compared to the likes of "Fripp," "Car," "Girl Stand Still," and Adam and Eve's more exploratory passages -- that covers a lot of the territory heard in Dickinson's past work, plus strings galore. After "My Name Is Love," a soaring introduction that smartly stops just short of saying "here is the anthem!," the album settles into calm contemplation, only to give way to a second half that throws in a couple rockers that strut and snarl with as much ease as "Broken Head" and "Broken Nose." One of these songs, along with the closing "Towering and Flowering," is a resuscitated turkey-era CW leftover that is, perversely enough, spectacular. Throughout, Dickinson's in better voice than ever while adding plenty of sweet background harmonies. Given the way his old band departed and the amount of time it took to materialize, Fresh Wine for the Horses is better than most could have expected. Fans who favored Catherine Wheel's more left-of-center moments will be unhappy that Dickinson is more into refinements than innovation here, but an album full of mostly great songs is an album of mostly great songs.

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