Katrina And The Waves
The Original Recordings: 1983-1984
I’m not positive this will make much sense, but I if I don’t at least try to explain a few things, the following review will be even more confusing than it probably is already. Okay (deep breath):
Katrina and the Waves’ first two LPs, Walking on Sunshine (1983) and Katrina and the Waves 2 (1984) were released only in Canada. The group itself was not Canadian but mostly English, with lead singer Katrina Leskanich being the American-born exception. Over half the material from those albums was later re-recorded for the band’s major-label debut on Capitol, Katrina and the Waves (1985), from which the hit single version of the song “Walking on Sunshine” was taken. The Canadian albums were then deleted and have not been readily available until this new collection from BongoBeat, which puts them both on one disc.
Everybody got that? Great. Feel free to refer back to this introduction if you get lost. Now, onward.
Most of the songs from Walking on Sunshine were not significantly altered for the groups’ major-label phase. The original version of the title song is missing the horn section and drum intro of the hit single and has to get by on the lively guitar riffs; fortunately this is not difficult. “Sunshine’s” stupidly happy, incredibly commercial drive has been soundbitten into near cliché by now, but it remains such an assured work that you don’t mind hearing it over again. Numbers such as “Que Te Quiero,” familiar to those of us who got past “Sunshine” on the US album, are as fiery bright here as there, and vice versa. But “Going Down To Liverpool” is an exception. This critics’ favorite was never improved upon, not by the Bangles cover or the Waves’ overly caffeinated re-recording with Katrina’s bombast replacing guitarist/writer Kimberly Rew’s more atmospheric singing.
Some songs from Katrina and the Waves 2 were actually better in their newer versions. When this material was first recorded it was the era of Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and so the band experimented with a Linn Drum (machine). Although this was the sound of the moment, in this context it hasn’t aged well, and it didn’t help the group’s Motown/two chord pop game much in the first place. Only the desirable “Sun Won’t Shine,” and “Do You Want Crying?” (the latter written by bassist Vince de la Cruz) aren’t hurt in comparison with their later, more urgent incarnations.
However much attention Katrina’s joyfully hollered vocals received, the signature of the Waves’ material was the songwriting of Kimberly Rew (late of The Soft Boys). The lengthy interview with the band included here makes this plain, as drummer Alex Cooper ruefully notes that the reason why the second Capitol album — Waves (1986) — was so awful was that Rew had just two of the songs on it.
That second American LP long ago made the group my go-to joke when it comes to reviewing material that is “pastiche snapshots of other songs and bands.” As Rolling Stone’s Mark Coleman pointed out at the time, “You can almost remember which Sixties pop-rock-soul nugget is being plundered at a given moment, but this Anglo-American quartet’s able-bodied songcraft and gung-ho instrumental chops disguise any direct connection.” -wm However, it occurs to me that I may not have been completely fair about this. On the one hand, the lack of originality is evident to anyone with a semi-experienced ear. Of the cuts here that were never re-recorded for US listeners — and thus unheard by me till now:
“Dancing Street” robs from The Clash to pay the Police.
“I Really Taught Me To Watusi” comes as close as the group ever did to Duran Duran or Bow Wow Wow.
And “One Woman” (also by de la Cruz) and “He’s A Charmer” are nods to “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “Get Ready” by The Temptations respectively. So self-evidently that I suspect they were left off the Capitol album for legal reasons.
That’s the one hand. On the other, when the volume is pumped up loud, who cares?
I don’t suggest this album for those who know and love the single version of “Sunshine” and not much else; such newbies should start with that first major-label LP, which still has most of the band’s best material and performances, or a good anthology that also contains the handful of good songs from Waves.
But those who want to hear more from a band who deserve to be able to get out from the shadow of their biggest hit should definitely give this a listen.
Katrina and the Waves: http://www.katw.com/