Last week, we looked at poor Gregory Abbott’s second album, and the way R&B stardom can evaporate in the blink of an eye. This week’s subjects prove that pop listeners are no less fickle, and that you can go from walking on sunshine to collecting dust in a cutout bin in the length of time it takes to write and record a poorly conceived follow-up album. Like, say, this one.
For an ’80s one-hit wonder, Katrina & the Waves have a pretty interesting history. They took awhile getting around to adding “Katrina,” either to their lineup or their name, starting life as a mid-’70s Cambridge outfit known simply as the Waves. We probably wouldn’t talking about the band, in any of its incarnations, if not for its guitarist, the minor pop deity known as Kimberley Rew. He’s probably best known for his brief stint with the Soft Boys, but Rew’s C.V. is impressive no matter which way you look at it — he claims arguably the Bangles’ best song, “Going Down to Liverpool,” as just one of his many songwriting credits.
Anyway, Rew left the Waves to join the Soft Boys, but when they broke up, he got in touch with former Wave Alex Cooper, who had become the drummer for a band called Mama’s Cookin’ — a band fronted by one Katrina Leskanich. Rew ended up joining Mama’s Cookin’, which ended up changing its name to…hey, what do you know! The Waves!
In the new Waves’ early days, Rew acted as the primary songwriter and vocalist; Katrina mainly handled the band’s cover tunes during live performances. Gradually, however, Rew started writing songs for Katrina to sing, and before long, the Waves became Katrina & the Waves.
(If you think the band’s history is complicated now, just wait.)
Unable to generate label interest in Britain or America, the band shopped its self-financed album to a Canadian label, which is why Walking on Sunshine was initially released only in our Great White neighbor to the north, and why the band ended up putting out an album called Katrina & the Waves 2 before making its worldwide debut, Katrina & the Waves.
Totally confused yet? Don’t worry. You don’t need to keep up. This is where the band’s Rew-penned Big Hit Single comes in:
As ’80s one-off hits go, “Sunshine” has aged pretty well, which is why you still hear it all the damn time, and why younger acts (such as the terrifying Aly & AJ) have covered it. The song’s durability is a testament to Rew’s talent…and given that I’ve spent the bulk of this post coming back to what a terrific songwriter Kimberley Rew is, you can probably guess what I’m going to tell you about Waves.
Ten songs. Two of them written by Rew.
I’m not sure if the change in the band’s “artistic direction” was prompted by Leskanich contracting Lead Singer Disease, or if Rew had his own reasons for taking himself out of the equation; either way, Waves sucked, and continues to suck now. Katrina Leskanich was a fine vocalist, but one listen to duds like “Stop Trying to Prove (How Much of a Man You Is)” (download) should be enough to convince anyone outside her immediate family that she never needed to step away from the microphone. Bassist Vince de la Cruz fares no better with his contributions, which include the utterly dreadful “Sleep on My Pillow” (download).
Of the two Rew-penned cuts, leadoff track “Is That It?” (download) has the most charm, but — as our esteemed Will Harris pointed out to me — “When you’re coming off your first successful album, don’t start the follow-up with a song that gives critics a perfect opening to trash it.”
Even given all this, Waves still managed to peak at #25, probably driven by blind purchases from hopeful fans of the first (third) album. Capitol was not impressed, however, and booted the band from its roster, beginning a period of label exile that lasted until 1989, when SBK (motto: “Wilson Phillips and some other acts”) released the long-forgotten Break of Hearts.
Still, you’ve got to admire the group’s tenacity; they managed to release four more albums after Hearts tanked, ending with 1997’s Walk on Water, after which Leskanich apparently quit the band, eventually going on to form the quickly-sued-into-using-another-name Katrina and the New Wave.
So everything ended up the way it was supposed to, if you think about it. Rew is still collecting royalty checks for his great songs, Katrina is playing festivals in Sweden, and we’re all sitting here shaking our heads at another pop band that insisted on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. What will next week’s cutout teach us? Not a damn thing, probably, but meet me back here anyway!