America has Madonna and Toni Braxton and Britain has Cerys Matthews. Cerys who, you say? Matthews is the ballsy, irreverent singer for Welsh popsters Catatonia and is a bona fide diva, the queen of the U.K. pop world…and she’s even good at what she does, a real singer of substance not fluffy image.
Of course, Equally Cursed and Blessed has already been out for awhile in Europe—seemingly always the case with great British pop—and it’s a dead-on hit in England for very good reason. Matthew’s sassy vocals and the band’s way with a tune make them stand at the front of the British pop class, a lot getting crowded with superb artists of late (Travis, Stereophonics, Ooberman).
“Dead from the Waist Down” is the anthemic ballad with an unfortunate chorus “make hay not war”—a trite line out of place in an otherwise stellar song. Like their Welsh compatriots the Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia is cognizant of the phoniness, soulessness and plastic-like quality of many of America’s mass cultural products that are shipped out ad naseum around the globe. That would account for the swipe at Hollywood: “But we’re dead from the waist down / Like in California.”
What makes this sentiment more convincing is that Matthews and crew don’t reserve their criticisms just for other countries, as they take aim at the U.K. capital on “Londinium.” “Londinium” is hardly a London rah-rah song—rather it speaks to urban angst and weariness—as Matthews sings that it “suck the life” out of her and “sucks the money” out of her pocket. As a former London resident, I can vouch for the latter, but certainly not the former. Though, I have to agree with Matthews that Paddington and Euston train stations can bring on a serious case of world-weariness. Musically, “Londinium” is the up-tempo Britpop standout sure to please even the most die-hard Anglophiles.
Equally Cursed and Blessed is the best album of the band’s career. In an effort to introduce their overlooked back catalogue to deprived American audiences, the U.S. version of Equally includes the U.K. smash hit singles “Road Rage” and “Mulder and Scully,” a song with somewhat silly X-Files references, but hooks to die for. Now if Americans would only start worshipping Matthews instead of Madonna.
// Notes from the Road
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