by Joe Jamnitzky
1996. The year that alternative music belonged, arguably, to The Smashing Pumpkins. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was possibly the biggest album that year, the band was on top of everything, winning awards and whatnot, until the Jimmy Chamberlain tragedy occurred.
Meanwhile, at a home studio called The Farm, in Michigan, a band named Catherine was busy recording their second album, Hot Saki and Bedtime Stories, which remains one of the great forgotten albums of the 90s…unless you’re a Smashing Pumpkins fan.
See, drummer Kerry Brown happened to be married to SP bassist D’arcy Wretzky at the time, and SP had done a bit of recording and production work with Brown at The Farm. SP was, of course, quite supportive of Catherine.
When Hot Saki… was released, it was easy to confuse it for an SP album. The fuzzy, bright guitars, and high vocals made the influence obvious from the very opening of the album. Having Wretzky sing co-lead vocals on two tracks, including the first single “Four Leaf Clover”, only added to that.
The difference here is, in place of the bombastic, overblown riffs and complex drumming that SP is known for, Catherine instead replaces that with pop hooks that are catchy and immediate, along with glimpses of psychedelia and a bit of dissonance here and there. Opening track “Whisper” (which appeared in the movie Scream), sets the album up perfectly, with acoustic guitars, Mark Rew’s breathy vocals, and fuzzed-out portions of guitar throughout.
The aforementioned “Four Leaf Clover” was, as the first single, played quite a bit on radio (remember those days?), as well as on 120 Minutes on MTV (Remember those days, too?). Again, and especially with Wretzky as part of it, it felt like SP gone pop, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There are moments where they try to combine the pop with the grandiose, which are, for the most part, successful. “Blacklight”, while starting out as a simple, acoustic driven song, culminates with a gentle, yet forceful buildup towards the ending. “Pink Floyd Poster” begins as a gentle, melancholy ballad, and halfway through turns into a monster rock song.
If there is one element of this album that I’ve always found problematic, it’s the drum sound, specifically the snare drum. I mention this because Kerry Brown, for whatever reason, has this weird thing for making the snare sound too metallic whenever he’s producing. SP fans familiar with Brown’s production work (he did most of James Iha’s B-side from the Mellon Collie album) know exactly what I’m talking about. While a minor complaint, it can get a little irksome on certain songs.
Overall though, this was an album that unfortunately did not get the attention it deserved, even despite connections to the biggest band in the world that year, and a generally good showing for the first single. Could it have been because people felt it sounded TOO much like SP, and considered it a rip-off? Nobody knows anymore. With tracks like “Four Leaf Clover”, “Pink Floyd Poster”, “Blacklight”, the acoustic ballad “Punch Me Out”, and the glam-tinged “Cotton Candy High”, among others, this is an album that seriously deserves a re-evaluation on its own terms. Yes, the SP connection will always be there, but remember…this isn’t SP.
(A quick side note; if you ever come across it, check out the single version of “Four Leaf Clover”, which is the one used in the video; in my opinion, it’s far superior to the album version.)