But today, on Wishville, the disturbing aspects -- the driving guitar, the unrelenting high-hat, and the cigarette-honed throatiness of Dickinson's voice -- take center stage. Darkness no longer lurks in the back of the music -- it pushes the songs from their heavily percussive beginnings (fully four songs on the short, nine-track EP open with just drums) through their distorted centers and into creepy repetitions of phrases. "Lick licking my wounds/ Will it help me/ Rip rip ripping my skin," Dickinson intones, not really looking for an answer. Resentful resignation beats out actual hope on every track, excepting the final song, "Crème Caramel" -- "Smooth and sweet and really unctuous." And even in that song, the Catherine Wheel comes across as nearly incredulous of the moment of beauty captured therein. Though a tribute to a lover, the song dips into imagery that is hardly loving: "I keep thinking my heart isn't true," it goes, "[but] I'll take an ax to that lie." Haunting organ tones back the otherwise soothing guitar and drum blend.
Still, the album is seductive. The execution is clean and expert enough that it's easy to see how the band could have developed its cultish following, pulling in listeners with the promise of a glimpse at what's inside the group's collective head. And though this unifying mood underlies the majority of the tracks, the band still manages to cover quite a range. Guest vocals by Sara Lee on the Verve-esque, looping "What We Want to Believe In" help to change it up, dribbling light notes into the sometimes heavy mix. And the simple four-track sound of "All of That," produced by Dickinson in his home, provides a welcome contrast to the heavily layered studio polish of the rest of Wishville. Following an album drought of three years, the Catherine Wheel has come around again, offering a set of songs that both flow well and offer enough variety to keep the group's patient audience from zoning out.